Entrepreneurial energy surrounding such startups as Bungii and PayIt made a $2 million investment in the KCRise Fund an easy choice for Jeff Jones and his team at H&R Block, the high-profile CEO said.
“When we think about the different pillars of how we want to give back to the community, taking a stake in these companies is a big one,” said Jones, explaining the Kansas City corporate giant’s decision to back a fund rich with portfolio companies like Bungii. “We weren’t ready yet to make our own direct investments, so [we needed to find a partner]. We had gotten to know Darcy [Howe], the diverse KCRise Fund, and their approach to investing. They’ve gotten really good returns.”
Click here to read more about Bungii’s recent $9.4 million funding round.
Launched earlier in 2019, KCRise Fund II has already made investments in Bungii, Backstitch and Daupler — with more funding news expected in the coming months, said Howe, managing director of the fund.
Announced Friday during Back2KC — an annual event now organized by the Kansas City Startup Foundation, the parent organization of Startland News, and which reconnects former Kansas Citians with the startup ecosystem in their hometown — such an investment is a perfect example of mounting entrepreneurial momentum within the City of Fountains, Jones noted.
“We know where Kansas City startups can go,” he said in reference to the founding of H&R Block. “We are committed to helping communities everywhere to make every block better. Kansas City’s entrepreneurs — as our community of origin — are particularly important to us.”
Block’s investment is among the biggest corporate displays of support for startups in KCRise Fund’s history, the company said, and Jones doesn’t take the honor — which he teased to Startland in June — lightly.
“This is our hometown, and I feel an incredible responsibility that comes along with that,” he said, noting the company still must make financial decisions and investments that allow them to compete with a global focus. “But this community is on the rise, and that’s why I love being here.”
As Jones sees it, startups are in need of corporate capital, while corporations are in need of entrepreneurial thinking strategies and capacity to innovate. H&R Block’s investment in local startups could prove to be a first step in creating a climate that fosters corporate innovation in Kansas City.
A former executive at Minneapolis-based Target, Jones said he’s already seen healthy corporate support for startups in action, proving it can work in the home he personally adopted just two years ago when taking the reins at H&R Block.
“It’s a much bigger city, obviously, but the public-private relationships in [Minneapolis], the way that major corporations — my old employer, Target; GM; Cargill; 3M; Best Buy; go down the list — they all have really interesting ways they participate in making Minneapolis better,” he said. “It’s a great example and it probably gets overlooked a little bit because it’s in the Midwest.”
H&R Block’s $2 million investment is just the beginning of what Jones hopes to accomplish, he said.
“My dream for this is that we’re helping stand for what small business owners are all about. We’re finding ways to help mentor companies. We’re partnering with startups to help think about the access to our business and clients,” Jones said. “One of the things I worry about is that too many people here think, ‘Haven’t we done enough already? Kansas City’s pretty good, isn’t it?’”
“But to be a place that’s great — that we all want to be a part of — you can never stop.”