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.
The Midwest is home, said Chris Rehkamp.
“That’s where I feel like I’m really grounded. A piece of this move was wanting to be near family, and another piece is that it’s what feels natural,” Rehkamp said of accepting a position as the associate director of the Technology Ventures Studio at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Innovation Center.
Rehkamp started the role in January, and is officially set to move to Kansas City from Hawaii later this month, he shared. The Technology Ventures program continues to be led by Jill Meyer.
“I’ve actually never been to KC,” Rehkamp said, laughing. “My wife went to grad school in Lincoln, Nebraska, and we lived on a farm south of there. So that’s the closest I’ve lived [to Kansas City].
Although Rehkamp has been managing virtual work with a five-hour time difference, he’s already gotten a feel for Kansas City’s collaborative spirit, he noted.
“It’s what I enjoy a lot about the Midwest — it’s very warm, and everyone’s brought me in with open arms,” Rehkamp said. “Kansas City feels very familiar and exciting at the same time.”
Time to settle down
Rehkamp spent his childhood in Minnesota where he grew up amongst a family of small business owners, he shared. There, he helped his parents with cabin and boat rentals.
“It showed me that you could create something of value and people would compensate you for that,” he explained.
But it wasn’t until Rehkamp spent time in Washington D.C. that he saw himself as an active part of the startup ecosystem, he continued. In D.C., Rehkamp worked at Union Kitchen — a startup that supports local food entrepreneurs.
“We were raising funds with a super small team; so it was that typical scenario where it was 10 people sitting at a conference table hustling all day,” he said. “… We started our own distribution company; we started our own catering company; [we] ended up opening our own grocery stores. It became a vertically-integrated business that was defined by aligning incentives with the customers and people we wanted to serve. So, that experience made me look more at myself as an ecosystem builder.”
With a newfound passion for supporting early stage companies, Rehkamp then found himself 30 minutes north at the University of Maryland where he managed the business school’s venture accelerator.
“For me, that really solidified the idea of living close to the people I want to serve in order to understand their needs and build the ecosystems they want to grow,” Rehkamp said. “In Hawaii, I was doing the same thing and wearing a bunch of different hats — along with being a business owner myself — and I see that as a big part of my role at UMKC as well.”
From big cities to the Big Island (and even spending some time in Ecuador), Rehkamp is looking to make Kansas City a permanent home, he noted.
“[My wife Sarah and I] are excited to settle,” Rehkamp shared. “A big part of this move is that we are not moving again. We’re coming to Kansas City to stay.”
Community on Clubhouse
In his role at UMKC, Rehkamp is working with Digital Sandbox KC, Whiteboard2Boardroom and KCInvestED. He is focused on how to create community around those programs and looking for additional programming that would support the continual growth of entrepreneurs in the programs.
“With Digital Sandbox, there’s a lot that comes after the $20,000 proof-of-concept funding that we could be doing to encourage their growth,” Rehkamp said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made community-building a challenge for many, Rehkamp noted. To combat feelings of isolation, Rehkamp is using the audio-only social networking app Clubhouse. The app is designed to host virtual rooms for live discussions, with opportunities for individuals to participate through speaking and listening.
Rehkamp started the Clubhouse group KC Startup Resources as a casual way for entrepreneurs to meet virtually and stay connected until it is possible to do so in person. The Clubhouse group meets at 5:30 p.m. CST. every Friday.
“There hasn’t been as many opportunities to get together and say, ‘These are my needs’ or ‘Here are my wins,’ and just celebrate and talk,” he said. “So we decided to throw out this time and see if we could get people to join that conversation. It’s like a weekly happy hour.”
The first Clubhouse group met April 16 with about 40 community members, Rehkamp noted. The next conversation is set for 5:30 p.m. April 23.
Through Rehkamp’s experiences in various startup communities, he discovered that the most successful people were the ones who gave more than they guarded, he said.
“I think there’s then a lot to be gained from being generous and supporting other people,” Rehkamp shared. “You learn that nobody does any of this stuff alone. We build teams, and even though we put founder or owner as our title, it takes a lot of people to help get something off the ground.”
‘More than our LinkedIn titles’
With Rehkamp making Kansas City his new home, he wanted to assure the community he plans to participate in much more than what’s in his job description.
“I think we’re all more than our LinkedIn headlines or our titles. I definitely see myself as many things — I am also an artist,” Rehkamp said. “I see [art] as very entrepreneurial. I love being around music and artists, playing music and supporting other artists.
“I spent a lot of time in the food system and love that,” he continued. “Kansas City appears to be excellent in both those areas. So for all those reasons and more, I’m just really excited to be there and be a contributing member of the community in a lot of different ways.”
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.