Editor’s note: Startland News is showcasing five Kansas City changemakers from five local organizations through its second annual Community Builders to Watch series. The following highlights one of the 2022 honorees, selected from more than 100 initial nominees. Click here to view the full list of Community Builders to Watch — presented by Engenious Design.
No one can solve local issues better than individuals embedded within the community, said Chris Rehkamp, who serves as the associate director of the Technology Ventures Studio at University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Innovation Center. Rehkamp and his team work to help move early-stage innovations from concept to reality — all to create jobs and economic impact, attract more equity funding and establish Kansas City as a tech hub.
Watch the video below, then keep reading to learn how family and passion guide Rehkamp’s professional and personal endeavors.
QUESTION: Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
ANSWER: I grew up in Minnesota — just outside the Twin Cities. I’m married, have a 10-month-old daughter and a dog. I love being in nature, playing sports and music.
I’ve always been surrounded by small businesses and entrepreneurship through my family, who still operates their own business today. The role of entrepreneurs and community has been ingrained in me in that way.
When my wife and I moved to the East Coast, I joined a team that was supporting local food entrepreneurs while scaling their businesses — that was my first reference point of building something bigger than yourself. I also joined a group that was activating the arts for social change, which helped me understand the potential for a passionate group of people to address hard problems within their community. I love music and being around creative and passionate people. So, essentially, I have found my way into supporting entrepreneurs in varying capacities.
Click here to read more about Chris Rehkamp’s life before moving to Kansas City.
Community Builders to Watch honorees will be celebrated June 15 at a Startland News reception and networking event, presented in partnership with Cyderes, C2FO, KC BizCare, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Profile videos from the Community Builders to Watch will be shown on screen at the KC Live! stage at Power & Light’s Live Block, along with a special concert featuring the Black Creatures.
Click here for event details.
Q: When did you first realize your work was building community in Kansas City?
A: Seeing really passionate people get excited about the continuity we are creating between challenging portions of the entrepreneurial journey (access to early-stage capital, plugin into investor networks, getting connected to your peers who are up against the same hurdles). That continuity is essentially people going to bat for one-another. That’s what you do in a community.
One example is we have five peer-to-peer roundtable groups that meet monthly. These are individuals building businesses in our community that would typically be “on an island” with their heads down, working on their businesses. With the roundtables, they have a peer group to support their efforts. That is later translated back into real solutions for our community.
Click here to read more about the Comeback KC Ventures fellow program within UMKC Innovation Center’s Technology Venture Studio.
Q: What is your hope for Kansas City’s tomorrow?
A: We had a daughter last year, and being a new dad, I think that hope takes on a different life.
No one solves community problems better than the people within that community. They have this deep understanding of what the needs are of this area. I would hope for the future that we can rally all these amazing resources, people, intellectual capital and real capital to support the vision of really hungry entrepreneurs. We talk all the time about how good ideas are not constrained to geography; they are not constrained to demographics.
My hope is that my daughter grows up in this community where there’s generational support for the kinds of initiatives that allow people to think critically about meaningful solutions in their community.
Q: How can the community get involved with and support your work?
A: At the Tech Venture Studio at the UMKC Innovation Center, we’re looking for those early-stage innovations and technologies. We want to support people and bring their ideas to life.
The other side of it is — if you’ve been successful as an entrepreneur and want to lend your time, expertise and resources back to early-stage individuals, we can be a conduit for that as well.
Bring your ideas and bring your expertise, and we will get you plugged in.
Q: What do you want your legacy to be?
A: I’m too early in my work to have thought much about legacy. But, I would love to help as many people as I can realize their vision and help facilitate the connection between those that have had success and the next generation of problem-solvers.
On a personal level, I think I’m always hoping that people see me as someone who sincerely cared for their lives and for their ambitions. My hope is that the work we do creates a space and opportunity for many people in the community — and that my daughter and friends’ kids have more opportunities because we did this work. These past few years have been hard for everybody; there’s this sense of doom and gloom. But I think entrepreneurship brings hope.
WHAT WE DO
Engenious Design is a creative engineering firm that creates medical devices and high technology systems for our clients.
WHO WE ARE
We are designers, makers, engineers who create new things that make the world a better place. Our team includes Electrical, Embedded Software, Mechanical and Test Engineers, Industrial Designers, Project Managers, Product Managers and others.
WHAT WE BELIEVE
Our team is guided by these four cultural aspirations:
Relate: We invest in healthy relationships with our team, clients, suppliers, partners, and our community
Create: We create new products that improve lives
Produce: We work quickly to get what’s important done
Improve: We have healthy unrest with the status quo, and we take responsibility to make things better