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.
Hiring a team in Austin, Texas, was “literally impossible,” Vinay Kumar explained as he unpacked the decision to uproot his startup and replant it in Kansas City.
“I’m pretty sure Kansas City will be a main hub in no time. I can already see that,” Kumar, managing director of 9Star — a cybersecurity company and leading provider of Enterprise-grade Identity, Authentication and Access Management software solutions — said of the metro’s growing tech-sector.
The allure of rapid tech-growth wasn’t the only thing that sold Kumar on Kansas City. Such a decision was two decades in the making, he said with a chuckle.
“My wife is from Kansas City. All her friends and family are all over, but she grew up in Atchison, Kansas. Her family owns two restaurants there. … I’ve been coming here for 20 years. We tried to move almost 20 years ago, but I think the scene here was quite different back then,” Kumar said of ties that bonded him and his family to the metro.
Now with an evolved startup scene, modern Kansas City is ripe for cultivating a company and 9Star could reach its full potential as part of the current ecosystem, he added.
“There’s a lot of activity in this area, in the enterprise IT security space, and there’s a lot of talent available,” he said of further advantages the city offers 9Star.
“There’s a lot of good universities around — both in Kansas and Missouri — within a three-hour driving distance,” Kumar said. “[Growing a company] requires a combination of factors: the universities, government policy, obviously — media awareness and the big successes.”
In Kumar’s mind, “big successes” include such companies as Garmin, which serve as community anchors and offer an example for growing tech companies within the local ecosystem, he elaborated.
“I’m confident we can grow the business here. Austin was getting overcrowded,” Kumar said. “We were looking to expand and I think I’ve had a fair bit of experience starting from scratch and bringing it to a certain level, and then making it somewhat successful. I’m starting here the same way.”
In awe of the city’s collection of co-working spaces and eclectic ecosystem, Kumar isn’t interested in building a big, fancy building for 9Star, he said. Instead, the founder is most eager to seek growth by plugging into the city’s startup scene at the ground level.
“Just keep growing,” he said of the strategy that will drive 9Star as it becomes a Kansas City-housed company. “Raise money if [we] have to, but we have plenty of customers of our own and we keep growing every day, customer by customer. The goal is to make the company self-sustaining.”
But Kumar and his team can’t do it alone. They’ll need to expand, he made clear.
“[Growth] is really about people, frankly. Talented, hardworking, honest people,” Kumar said, detailing the kind of support 9Star needs from the startup community. “Software developers, marketing, PR people, salespeople from the enterprise software space — especially people with domain expertise in enterprise infrastructure software — that would be pretty helpful.”
Kumar is also interested in connecting with Kansas Citians who can advise him on finance, private equity and venture capital and strategic partnerships that can aid distribution efforts, he said.
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.