Editor’s note: KCultivators is a lighthearted profile series to highlight people who are meaningfully enriching Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The KCultivator Series is sponsored by Plexpod, a progressive coworking platform offering next generation workspace for entrepreneurs, startups, and growth-stage companies of all sizes.
Years before his tenure as a Sprint executive-turned-startup leader, Kevin McGinnis was an outbound telemarketer who called people at dinnertime, he said.
Even earlier, he worked at a meatpacking plant.
“I think everybody should really be keen on where they came from and let that form who they’re going to be,” said McGinnis, CEO of Keystone Community Corporation.
Kansas City has an opportunity to do the same, he stressed, emphasizing historical touch points that could point the way to a more prosperous, innovation-driven era for the City of Fountains. Specifically, McGinnis aims to develop the Keystone district, a central location for all things innovation in the metro — and drawing stakeholders from both sides of the border.
“The idea is if we can build a place where you have universities, corporations, entrepreneurs, risk capital, all in a tightly built neighborhood, you start to see those collisions that escalate and accelerate the number of enterprise or innovation driven companies,” he said. “Workforce development happens faster. You start to see commercialization of research out of the universities and see that start to stay local.”
Six years ago, McGinnis wrote a paper about the Keystone innovation district called “The Bridge,” he said.
“There was a group that was working on it, but it didn’t go anywhere,” he added. “And so it kind of sat dormant until I took it over, officially in March 2018.”
Reviving the project after departing Pinsight Media, McGinnis began touring the country to learn from examples of innovation hubs in other cities. As founder and former managing executive of the Sprint Accelerator, he already had some understanding of what entrepreneurs need to succeed and compete with high-growth corporations, he said.
“Typically entrepreneurs like being around other entrepreneurs. If you can build density, then you can provide resources in a more efficient way for entrepreneurs,” said McGinnis.
But pursuing a generational project like Keystone, which is at least 10 years in the making, meant finding partners in the community who had similar interests, he said.
“I knew at the time that it would require more than just a group of civic leaders saying, ‘yes.’ I needed to find somebody that would kind of back the project,” McGinnis said.
After connecting with such partners as architecture firm BNIM and constructruction company J.E. Dunn Capital Partners, the pieces of the puzzle began falling in place, he said. The next step: finding an ideal location in the urban core of the city.
“The Kansas City Area Transportation Authorities were trying to figure out what they do with a three-acre parcel of land at 18th Street and Troost Avenue,” McGinnis said. “They wanted to see if somebody had a vision to transform 18th Street between the East Crossroads and 18th and Vine. Well, that’s exactly what we wanted to do.”
Named for the transformation power of a “keystone” — the last stone that is put in a stone arch to bridge the two sides and provide strength — the philosophy behind the district is as critical as the partnerships powering it, he said.
“We don’t want to replace or consolidate programs, what we want to do is optimize what’s already here,” McGinnis explained, emphasizing plans to incorporate the perspectives of existing community members and focus on workforce development issues..
“I hope that we can help the underserved populations become equipped for the knowledge economy and really raise the median incomes and the average wages of people that today don’t have access to some of those skills,” he added.
Startland News sat down with McGinnis to find out more about his love for Kansas City and the puzzle pieces that connect his life. The KCultivator Series is sponsored by Plexpod, which reimagines a workspace model where businesses share resources and grow together.
Hometown: Dodge City, Kansas. I still consider Dodge City somewhat my hometown, although I’ve been in Kansas City longer than anywhere else now.
Who is a historical figure you wish you could follow on social media and why? I would have to pick [Kansas City political boss] Tom Pendergast. I just think he lived a very interesting life. He was kind of the influencer behind the scenes. I would love to know — if he was on social media — what was he thinking?
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: Bird’s claw. It was in a Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles, like real authentic. They bring carts over to the table when you pick all these exotic foods. And there was like a chicken claw.
Best thing you’ve eaten in Kansas City: Steaks at Anton’s.
If you could go to any concert what would it be: The Foo Fighters are great in concert, then last year I saw Nathaniel Rateliff. And he’s coming back on Sept. 1.
Why do you call Kansas City home: It’s just a great place to live. I mean, we always talk about the quality of life and the standard of living. But I am a big believer that it’s hard to get people here. But once they’re here, it’s hard to get them to leave.
What startup do you find most interesting right now: I’m really fascinated by what the guys at Bungii are doing. I may be a little personally biased, but the PayIt team, I think they’re in a huge space in terms of serving GovTech and modernizing government payment systems. I think what the ShotTracker guys are doing is really exciting. it’s hard to pick one.
What you would do if you weren’t in your line of work: Bartend.
What word or phrase do you hate the most? When people say “Whatever,” I just can’t do it.
Biggest accomplishment: My kids.
Biggest failure: At Sprint, I was the product manager for the first Wi-Fi enabled cell phone in the world. And we didn’t get it all the way to market. And now Wi-Fi is everywhere. And every cell phone carrier is trying to figure out how to get calls off their network and onto Wi-Fi. So I mean, I learned a lot from that, but it was a big mess.
Who in your life inspires you: I think there’s just a lot of people around here who have a lot of grit and determination. And instead of saying, “I can’t do it here, I can’t raise money here,” they make it happen. There are a lot of startup founders who are getting it right and doing it right. To me, that’s always inspiring. And it always kind of drives me to do more. I find a lot of inspiration in the community.
You have a time machine and can travel anywhere in the past or future. Where and when do you go? I’d love to be in the room when the Founding Fathers were having the conversation about the U.S. Constitution and creating the United States, and really understand what we all are trying to interpret as their intent now.
Favorite travel locale: I have a new one this year: the Cayman Islands. It’s really closer than I thought. It’s beautiful.
Guilty pleasure TV show: “Modern Family.”
Your mantra or motto: Attitude is everything; you control how you react to things. It’s your choice and if you understand that you have control over your own attitude, then it changes your outlook on a whole lot of things.
This story was produced through a collaboration between Missouri Business Alert and Startland News.