Editor’s note: Startland News selected 10 Kansas City firms to spotlight for its annual Startups to Watch list, now in its seventh year recognizing founders and startups that editors believe will make some of the biggest news in the coming 12 months. The following is one of 2022’s companies. Click here to view the full list of Startups to Watch — presented by sponsors Husch Blackwell and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
Drawing on momentum from a series of high-profile accelerators and pitch competitions, Venboo is preparing to turn its founders’ passion for monetizing creators’ work into off-the-page action, said Juaquan Herron.
“From the beginning, we knew this would be a very niche business, but it’s shown its ability to grow and scale,” said Herron, co-founder of the app-based tech platform for vendors — teasing plans for a seed round and the hiring of event specialists, a business development leader, and another, technical co-founder. “We’re looking to rock and roll.”
Elevator pitch: Venboo is a tech platform that allows small businesses to locate and book vendor opportunities to sell and/or market their products.
- Founders: Juaquan Herron, Rodney McDuffie
- Founding year: 2020
- Current employee count: 5 (3 independent contractors)
- Amount raised to date: $36,000 (grant programs)
- Programs completed: Venture Noire Accelerator, Pure Pitch Rally (bootcamp and pitch competition), Goodie Nation, Canadian Wealth Startup Pitch Competition, Spark Tank Pitch, Digital Sandbox KC
Venboo allows event organizers to post their vendor opportunities and connect with the highest quality and most passionate vendors in the Midwest, according to the company. Herron sees the potential to quickly expand into larger markets like Dallas, Chicago and New York, he said, tapping into a desire to see creators’ work valued and rewarded.
“The world looks at creators like people with over-glorified hobbies. My mission with Venboo is to show the world that small businesses can become big businesses with the right tools,” Herron said. “And Venboo is that tool.”
Click here to learn more about Venboo’s app, which allows creatives to explore event lists, book spots, and track expenses all in one place.
His own background as the founder of 2923 Comics and creator of the “Scarlet Knight” comic book series helps provide valuable insight into the user experience, he said, acknowledging potential skepticism from those observing his jump from the creative world to tech founder.
“We feel people’s doubt sometimes, and to be honest, I get it,” Herron said. “You’ve got this guy who — not too long ago — was just writing and paying artists to make comic books. And now he’s in tech, but not just in tech; he’s on a level you didn’t expect, up on stage at the Pure Pitch Rally alongside other great Kansas City founders.”
He draws additional inspiration from the legacy of one of Kansas City’s great success stories.
“I look at individuals like Walt Disney, and I see what his company went from: drawing a mouse to now being a billion-upon-billion-dollar company. And why can’t that be me?” Herron said. “Disney started with animation and now goes into merchandising, amusement parks, streaming, tech, and employs hundreds of thousands of people.”
Venboo helps other creators pursue similar dreams, he added, connecting them with the opportunities to reach their full potential — even if they might initially seem like a small business with a small idea.
“A company that’s ‘just selling soap and candles’ can go on to become Bath & Body Works. Someone starting a cannabis company now could be selling to millions in a few years,” he said. “Just because it’s not tech doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable or lucrative.”
Venboo was a finalist for both the Emerging Business Award and Equity Award at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s 2021 Small Business Celebration.
Herron and co-founder Rodney McDuffie are excited to strategically develop and shape Venboo into a tool that defies expectations, he said.
“Once people see the work that we’re doing, they always lose any doubt they might have brought into the room,” Herron said. “I tell my son all the time: You have to put in the work, and then they’ll see it.”
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Startups to Watch is now in its seventh year, thanks to ongoing 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.