Six years after launching as a grants competition, the ever-evolving LaunchKC program will continue as an accelerator platform, newly led by the minds behind Keystone Labs — an outgrowth of the Keystone innovation district effort championed by Kevin McGinnis.
Announced Thursday morning during a meeting of the Downtown Council of Kansas City, the move is expected to see Keystone Labs provide an array of operational functions to LaunchKC, including the planning, development and execution of all educational programming; office space and real estate for the participating companies; program management staff; and development of the business models between participating companies and industries.
“This is the sweet spot of our mission,” said Davyeon Ross, governing board chair for the Keystone Community Corporation and co-founder of ShotTracker. “Today innovation is no longer locked up in narrow industry silos. For entrepreneurs to succeed, they need to be plugged into an entire ecosystem, and at Keystone, that’s precisely what we’ve built.”
LaunchKC’s parent organizations — the Downtown Council and the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, Missouri — are expected to retain ownership of the nonprofit initiative, which first was established in 2014 as a competitive grants program for tech entrepreneurs before pivoting to become an accelerator platform that works in partnership with corporate sponsors on industry specific verticals.
“Through their various accelerators, they have helped startups — 53 percent of which have been female or minority-led — bring ideas to market through mentorship, fundraising and opportunities to test and refine their products and services,” said McGinnis, founder and CEO of the Keystone Community Corporation.
The most recent accelerator programs included the bcp tech insuretech accelerator with Brush Creek Partners, Launch Health accelerator with Nueterra Capital, and the Black & Veatch COVID-19 Response Accelerator, he said.
Unveiled in October, Keystone Labs offers corporate members — and partners like LaunchKC — access to cross-industry expertise and some of the city’s leading transformation toolkits, McGinnis said previously.
“Here in KC, we have a lot of talent, but that talent has been disconnected for too long,” he said. “With Keystone Labs, we will have a network where people can collaborate on design challenges across industries to generate ideas and drive exponential benefit to our region.”
Click here to learn more about Keystone Labs.
Keystone Community Corporation leads coordinating efforts between educational institutions and other ecosystem partners — like Children’s Mercy Hospital and Black & Veatch — for the Keystone Labs project, with marketing and communications giant VMLY&R serving as the primary support partner.
Keystone Labs is seen as foundational programming for the planned Keystone Innovation District — an ambitious effort by McGinnis and the project’s partners to establish a new hub of entrepreneurial activity in Kansas City. First announced in October 2018, the innovation district has sought traction on the city’s east side where resources historically have been limited.
“For years, we have been talking about the role corporations can and should play in ecosystem building — providing access and resources,” said Dan Smith, co-founder of The Porter House KC, describing the need for programs like Keystone Labs. “We are excited to see this project’s impact on the community we come from and serve.”
Click here to read more about the conversation around opportunities and challenges facing innovation hub planners.
Keystone Labs offers three core studios of focus — ideation, collaboration and growth — each modeled to tackle the biggest problems facing universities, startups, corporations, McGinnis said.
For LaunchKC, partnership with Keystone Labs comes as a mid-pandemic solution that leaders expect to push the program into its next iteration — not just help it to survive COVID.
“As we continue to recover from the impact of the pandemic, LaunchKC is one of our most important programs for our entrepreneurial community,” said T’Risa McCord, interim president and CEO of EDCKC. “History has shown us that innovation is sometimes sparked by challenge.”