Hold your head high, be eager, and embrace the startup community that surrounds you, Lauren Lawrence said as the first outside investor calls on her Kansas City-filed tech startup, Stenovate.
“The first person to really take a risk on you as an outside investor who’s not your mom and dad … they’re always a significant person in the company,” Lawrence, founder and CEO, said of Karen and Paul Fenaroli — leaders of the Fenaroli Minerva Investment Fund.
Carrying an undisclosed total amount, the funds will help Stenovate — an online platform for court reporters, scopists, and proofreaders to simplify organization and collaboration — reach the marketplace, Lawrence said, reflecting on the startup’s rapid transition from concept to reality.
“In a way, it feels like it’s just been this complete whirlwind,” Lawrence said of her entrepreneurial journey, which officially began in spring 2018.
“From May until October , it was kind of just talking to people, researching, having meetings with different developers … kind of trying to just understand the technical side of things,” Lawrence recalled of her early days as a founder, specifically noting an early pitch to Digital Sandbox KC — which proved premature for Stenovate, she added of her experience with the Jeff Shackleford-led proof-of-concept program.
“I was kind of in this stage of, OK, well, we don’t have any funding to start development … what can I do in the meantime?’”
Embracing community resources, Lawrence leaned into the rhythm of the Kansas City startup ecosystem and found the support of Lean Start Lab, she explained.
“We maybe spent like a solid month kind of coming up with [UX] designs. … It really helped provide the path of the product and [the idea that] ‘this is the problem we’re solving and this is how we’re going to solve it,’” she recalled of the time she spent fine-tuning Stenovate.
Primed, Lawrence took the stand at the Pure Pitch Rally during Techweek Kansas City in October 2018 — unsuspectingly walking through a door of intense acceleration, she noted.
Click here to read more about the 2018 Pure Pitch Rally before it returns Oct. 15.
“I pitched the idea to the land sharks and Full Scale actually gave us a $25,000 credit with them and so that’s how we really got started [toward realizing Stenovate],” Lawrence said of the support she gained at the annual event, where she first caught the eye of its founder — Karen Fenaroli.
“She pitched really well,” recalled Fenaroli. “I watched her develop her product, you know, completely doing her thing … and then I stood back and I realized: ‘Here is a talent that not only is advancing technology in an antiquated legal marketplace, but she’s doing it out of Kansas City.’”
A steadfast believer in Stenovate, Fenaroli said Lawrence could rise as Kansas City’s next tech leader.
“She has national eyes on her already. I could see [her gaining more investors] within a matter of months. She’s going to have her product debut here. She has a wait list of 500 customers,” explained Fenaroli. “She is a woman CEO, in a tech company with a woman investor behind her. What is happening in Kansas City?”
In Fenaroli’s mind, the answer is simple: Kansas City is radical in its support of entrepreneurs, she said.
“I feel that we are the best city in the United States to create more women-led technology firms and women-led investment rounds,” Fenraroli said, citing recently released data from a Commercial Cache ranking of Kansas City. “It came out less than two weeks ago. It ranked Kansas City as the No. 1 city, year-to-year at 6.2 percent for start up growth because of the startup density that we have.”
Supporting founders like Lawrence is what will help KC maintain its momentum and build an inclusive ecosystem, churning out more women-led companies and celebrating their achievements, Fenaroli said.
As Lawrence processed her Pure Pitch Rally victories — which included an additional $3,000 in funding from Greg Deitch, president, Trabon Solutions; Greg Kratofil, chair, Polsinelli’s Technology Transactions and Data Privacy group; and Steve Swartzman, co-founder, C3 Capital — she took a second go at Digital Sandbox.
“I think it’s really important that not only do they let you pitch, but then they turn around and say, ‘Here’s six things we’d like to see when you come back.’ … I think that is such a great way for not only them to see if you do come back, but it really kind of puts you in the face of adversity and then helps you to stick with it and have that gumption,” she said of Digital Sandbox, which ultimately accepted her into its spring 2019 cohort.
“Between Pure Pitch Rally and Digital Sandbox, I mean, I don’t know that we would still be going if we didn’t have those resources,” Lawrence revealed, crediting additional community resources such as KC Collective with bridging gaps for startups and providing founders with solid ground to build strong companies.
“There’s stepping stones and if you can stick with it and work through it, then the support is there and that’s really exciting,” she said.