Iron sharpens iron, said Rodney Sampson, announcing 12 finalists — seven from Kansas City — for $250,000 in investments and a coveted demo day stage at SXSW in March.
Each startup is rich with founders who have invested the time and energy to earn a payout from the ecosystem, said Sampson, founder of the Opportunity Hub (OHUB), an Atlanta-based entrepreneur support organization that made Kansas City its first expansion city at a launch event in May.
Click here to learn more about OHUB’s Kansas City accelerator efforts.
“What you get out of the ecosystem is determined by what you invest in the ecosystem,” he said. “If you went up to the bank right now and tried to withdraw something, but you haven’t made a deposit … that’s not going to happen.”
The 12 finalists — narrowed from an initial group of 180 applicants, further winnowed to 100 attendees of a masterclass in August, then to 50 participants in a four-month support program — each received $5,000 non-dilutive checks and an intensive week-long workshop focusing on product-to-market challenges (including sales, fundraising and product-market fit), Sampson said.
Next they’ll be pared by more than half, leaving five startups to present at a demo day during SXSW in March in Austin. Each presenting company is expected to receive a $50,000 investment, Sampson said.
The five heading to Texas are set to be announced Jan. 17 at OHUB’s next Third Fridays event.
Among the finalists from Kansas City:
- Boddle Learning (Clarence Tan) — Educational games for homework and tests that adjust to students abilities. (Click here to learn more about Boddle.)
- Bodify (Carlanda McKinney) — A fashion tech company (formerly Raaxo) that leverages computer vision and a selfie to make size recommendations to shoppers. (Click here to learn more about Bodify/Raaxo.)
- Diversity Telehealth (Shelley Cooper) — Uses technology to bring healthcare to people who need it and can’t get to it.
- Erkios Systems (Philip Vanderstraeten) — Robust, patented cybersecurity ecosystem called FortiFi that allows users to safeguard their data against insider threats through both physical and logical security measures. (Click here to learn more about Erkios.)
- FilmDove (Leonard Frye) — Connects filmmakers to resources like investors and distributors to help get their films purchased and distributed. (Click here to learn more about FilmDove.)
- Matchrite Care (Christopher Jones) — A software application that allows patients to retrieve and share their medical records between providers. (Click here to learn more about Matchrite Care.)
- PlaBook (Philip Hickman) — Innovative reading technology that uses AI to help learning outcomes. (Click here to learn more about PlaBook.)
The cohort of finalists also includes five startups from outside the Kansas City metro, Sampson said, a move that dovetails with the mission of OHUB’s partner organization, the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, Missouri.
“EDCKC is primarily tasked with attracting and retaining businesses here. As we evolved, we started focusing on creating net new companies and skills here on the ground,” he said. “So we had to balance it out.”
Those additional startups hoping to advance to SXSW include:
- The Black Travel Box, Denver (Orion Brown) — Described as Away meets Glossier.
- Forefront, St. Louis (Yulkendy Valdez) — B2B SaaS for building upskilled and connected global teams.
- Laundris Corporation, Austin (Don Ward) — Helps hotels streamline inventory and asset management of linens. Our platform saves customers $15,000 per year per hotel and extends linen life an additional 18 months through advanced tracking, reporting, and analytics.
- Musicbük, Atlanta (DuMarkus Davis) — Music education marketplace.
- SpenDebt, St. Louis (Kiley Summers) — Micropayment platform repaying consumers debt.
Sampson credited Drew Solomon, senior vice president at EDCKC, as well as Gary Sage, retired senior development officer at the EDCKC, and others for helping lay the groundwork for OHUB’s arrival in Kansas City.
“As any ecosystem builder who’s been doing this for awhile knows, when you come into any region, city or community, you have to realize you’re coming in to essentially build up the assets that are already there,” Sampson said. “You’re not coming in like the Great White Hope. You’re not coming in as a savior. You’re really organizing, and serving as a catalyst to actually bring out the best of the resources that are already in a particular area.”
In addition to possible expansion to New Orleans and San Diego, OHUB is expected to begin its second cohort program in Kansas City — led by Lyndon Breckenridge, OHUB ecosystem builder lead — in August 2020, Sampson said.
Continued development of the EDCKC-backed initiative — like the efforts of startups themselves — depends on universal reciprocity, he added.
“Whether it’s your time, your talent, your treasure, your recommendations, your referrals — if you invest in something, I do believe the universe will be reciprocal in investing in you,” Sampson said. “It might not happen overnight, but if you come to the ecosystem looking for what you can take, not give, then the universe will respond in time as well.”
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.