Editor’s note: New in KC is an ongoing profile series that highlights newly relocated members of the Kansas City startup community, their reasons for a change of scenery, and what’ they’ve found so far in KC. Click here to read more New in KC profiles.
Kansas City’s got two things going for it: a growing tech ecosystem and a quiet, yet big city feel, Austin Wilson said as he analyzed his recent move from the West Coast.
“I mean, coming from L.A. when you’re in Hollywood or downtown Santa Monica or something, [noise and traffic are] kind of a shit show,” said Wilson, director of city innovation and relations at UrbanLean — a Palo Alto GovTech platform which helps cities test and evaluate innovative solutions in three steps.
Click here to learn more about UrbanLeap.
In the area for just a few months, Wilson and UrbanLeap have already submitted a proposal to the city of KCMO in hopes of forging a partnership, the downtown Kansas City transplant explained.
“I reached out to Rick Usher and kind of said, ‘Hey, I’m moving to the city, this is what I’m doing for work, I would love to just kind of connect with you,’” he said of his initial introduction to Usher, KCMO assistant city manager for entrepreneurship and small business.
“Rick has probably sparked me meeting, I’d say, at least 30 or 40 people now across the entire city,” Wilson said of the impact meeting Usher has had on his work.
“A goal is to break down silos across the city and create an ecosystem of collaboration transparency [and] define an urban innovation process which minimizes risks and allows the city to leverage rich data to make citizen oriented decisions in order to deliver the best outcomes to the community,” he explained of potential benefits in a collaboration between UrbanLeap and the city of KCMO.
Additionally, UrbanLeap has seen success in the City of Grandview — which was chosen as one of 11 cities in the startups small city innovation cohort in partnership with ELGL, Wilson added.
“Currently, the cohort is focusing on mobility and citizen engagement,” he said of the work, which saw 52 innovative ideas submitted to the company in 31 days.
Click here for more on the cohort and their work.
Though Wilson’s presence in Kansas City has created new business opportunities for UrbanLeap, the startup doesn’t hold a physical presence in the metro. Instead, Wilson’s move is the result of the company’s remote working policy.
“I was living in LA with my girlfriend and we were paying like $4,500 a month for our one bedroom. I’m 35 now and I took a step back and was like, ‘I can work from anywhere.’ …My girlfriend is from Des Moines and we kind of got to talking about coming down to Kansas City for the day,” he explained.
A night’s stay later, the couple was ready to commit to Kansas City and its plains state charm, Wilson noted.
“I was walking around just taking pictures of a bunch of the architecture — I think it was my first week here — and two random guys just came up and one tapped me on the shoulder and he’s like, ‘Hey man, give me your phone. I’ll take a picture of you standing in front of the building you’re taking a picture of,’ in Los Angeles, if someone said that to me, I’d be like, ‘Dude, get away from me like that. Like, no,’” he said, laughing.
Walkability, less traffic and a significantly lower cost of living have proven to be additional draws for Wilson, he added.
“If you can come to Kansas City with a New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles pay structure — that’s fantastic. That’s kind of an ideal scenario and I actually know a lot of people who are moving out of major metropolitan areas along the coast in California and moving to more geographically remote [cities],” Wilson said of what he’s observed as a trend in the tech space.
“I probably could name like 10 or 12 people that have moved out of state to carry their California income over to a place where the cost of living is better. … I have a feeling things like that are gonna start to pick up over time as well.”
UrbanLeap is currently looking to fill five positions in Kansas City — each carrying a West Coast salary, Wilson noted.
Click here to submit your resume.
Unpacked and ready to connect, Wilson’s focus has turned to embedding himself in Kansas City’s startup ecosystem — just as he did in cities L.A. and other cities such as Miami, he noted.
“L.A, it’s so big. It’s hard to stand out, but it’s really hard to kind of feel a sense of community there,” Wilson said. “For me, coming into Kansas city, being able to feel like a part of the community was a goal of mine and the community and the people I’ve reached out to you have been very, very welcoming. It’s been a pleasant surprise.”
Click here to connect with Wilson on LinkedIn.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.