It might look like an indie rock music festival on the outside, but a just-announced, three-day event coming to Kansas City this summer is as much about the heartbeat of innovation in the region as the beats dropped by Grammy-nominated headliner Black Pumas, said Sonia Hall.
“What we want to do is start to disrupt the thinking that there’s nothing innovative here and that we’re just flyover territory,” said Hall, CEO of the Shawnee-based nonprofit BioKansas. “We want people to attend Innovation Festival and leave with this undeniable understanding that innovation is what we do here.”
The festival — set for Aug. 4-6 at Crown Center — is expected to feature nine indie bands, as well as innovation entertainment, a biologics reveal, STEM learning and communication, two conferences — “Mechanisms of Disease Research” and “Recruitment and Innovation in Ag Tech” — and an exhibitor pavilion and brewery showcase.
Tickets for the festival went on sale 10 a.m. Friday, April 15. Click here to learn more about what’s planned.
“In between each of those musical acts, we’re featuring innovative companies, technologies, and discoveries that either have emerged or are emerging out of the Midwest,” Hall said.
“We want [festival-goers] to see that they actually interact with our industry on a daily basis,” she continued. “Most people think of science as being inaccessible to them for a career. But working in a brewery is directly applicable to working in the biosciences. It is a bioscience-based industry, one of the very first bio manufacturers.”
Partnering with the arts community for the festival also was a natural fit, Hall said, noting the emphasis on showing a cross-section of talent.
The musical lineup was unveiled Monday — led by Black Pumas; homegrown acts The Greeting Committee, the Freedom Affair, and Dreamgirl; and Wichita artists Evann McIntosh and the Cavves. The Regrettes, Whitehall, and Mellowphobia round out the bill.
Click here to explore a playlist of the featured artists at Innovation Festival.
“Some of them have toured internationally, some of them toured nationally,” she said. “We’re really wanting to represent a broad stretch of the indie alt-rock scene, not just here within the Midwest, but from around the country.”
Talent under the microscope (and behind it)
Innovation Festival emerged from strategic planning in 2019 to identify new regional economic workforce and community development efforts, Hall said.
Working with KC Rising and other partners, BioKansas focused on celebrating the local biologic sector.
“Being a molecular geneticist myself, I understand the perception at a national and international level of what people think we’re capable of in the Midwest, what we produce, and the value of the discoveries and innovations that we bring to the table,” Hall explained. “Oftentimes, we’re not really boastful about our accomplishments here and so we fly under the radar.”
Click here to learn more about BioKansas and the Kansas life science ecosystem.
“There’s this recognition that we need to celebrate these things,” she added. “And we decided that we needed to celebrate them in a really big way, while elevating other industries at the same time and other communities.”
Cue the packed schedule and strategic conferences.
“Mechanisms of Disease Research” is a targeted workforce recruitment effort, for example, bringing in 250 early career scientists, many of them very technically trained and from coastal hubs, Hall noted.
“We’re matching them with regional companies and academic institutions, where their technical skills and their scientific interest make them a good fit to work or train,” she said. “Anybody who’s connected to the bioscience industry, or the tech industry, really understands how challenging it is to get that real high-tech talent within our region.”
Organizers also curated the conference to highlight the experience in Kansas City — showing attendees they can enjoy the local lifestyle while keeping a successful career that might be perceived as confined to larger, more coastal cities.
“We’re deploying groups of attendees that have been matched with companies to trendy, local restaurants and various neighborhoods across Kansas City, so that they can really embed themselves in the vibrancy of the community,” she continued. “What we hope is that they can see themselves living or working here and growing their careers with us.”
The “Recruitment and Innovation in Ag Tech” conference is expected to highlight innovation in another surging industry in the region, Hall said, noting agriculture is responsible for feeding the world.
“It’s going to require a lot of innovation to be able to do that, especially considering all of the environmental changes that we’ve seen and that are still coming,” she added.
The region’s Animal Health Corridor provides such solutions, Hall said.
“We’re responsible for so much of the biosafety and biosecurity of the global food supply and we think that that’s something to be celebrated and make the world aware of,” she said.
Creating the playlist for innovation
The lineup for Innovation Festival is a solid bill of talent itself, said Chris Haghirian.
Kansas City favorite The Greeting Committee just wrapped up a sold-out national tour, noted Haghirian, a 90.9 The Bridge radio host and local music promoter. During the pandemic, one of the band’s songs, “Beginning Middle End,” was featured in the Netflix movie “To All the Boys: Always and Forever.”
“They’re the party band and one of the songs they play in the film becomes the song for this couple,” he explained. “So it’s a pretty cool feature.”
The Regrettes are also featured in the Coachella lineup, the Freedom Affair have been featured in an Apple commercial, and Dreamgirl just played at SXSW.
Click here to read more about Dreamgirl and the band’s recent SXSW performance.
Wichita musician Evann McIntosh is just 17 and was on tour with the Maes, he added.
“They’re moving in the right direction and doing some cool stuff,” Haghirian said.
To help the bands in furthering their careers, Innovation Festival organizers plan to provide performers with the recordings and photos from their shows.
“So in addition to hosting smaller, local/regional acts and putting them on a big stage next to a Grammy-nominated act, the festival is working to provide the artists more tools to help grow their careers, with recorded content, recorded audio, recorded video, to help them branch out,” Haghirian said.
The festival experience is curated to elevate individuals with opportunities not typically available, Hall emphasized, drawing parallels from music to biotech and even to the supplier diversity behind the event itself.
“If you’re a true partner in an area or in a city or a region, then you should be doing things that elevate all people,” she continued, noting organizers set of a goal of 80 to 90 percent of festival service contracts to be awarded to businesses led by People of Color, members of the LGBTQ+ community or veterans. “So that’s kind of embedded and ingrained in every aspect of this festival.”
Click here to read more about KC Rising’s CEO-to-CEO Challenge on supplier diversity.