Bracket update: Since this story’s original publication, Kansas City has advanced to the Midwest Madness bracket’s Round of 32. Voting on Kansas City’s next match-up — against 5-seed Lafayette, Indiana — begins Tuesday, March 21.
As sports fans fill out March Madness brackets this week, a Chicago-based venture capital firm is encouraging Midwestern founders, investors and ecosystem enthusiasts to join in a Twitter vote for their preferred startup city in Midwest Madness.
M25, a venture capital firm that invests heavily in Midwestern startups, organizes the 64-city bracket that puts Midwestern cities in head-to-head competition to determine who boasts the best local startup ecosystem.
Click here to vote on matchups in the 2023 Midwest Madness competition, beginning March 14 in 48-hour, one-on-one increments.
This is the third year of Midwestern Madness, according to Katie Birge, head of platform at M25, who said she came up with the 48-hour Twitter poll idea in 2021 as a simple way to increase social media engagement.
“I’m a longtime fan of the March Madness tournament, and I just decided one day, ‘What if we pitted cities against each other in the Midwest based on our Midwest City Rankings at M25, and what if it was a Twitter poll?’” Birge said.
RELATED: KC’s standing among Midwest peer cities rose in M25’s 2022 ranking
“I spent about a day working out the logistics and made up a paper bracket,” Birge continued. “I think I actually used a real March Madness bracket. I didn’t have expectations that this would be a big hit for us as far as Twitter campaigns go, but it blew up really quickly and some cities started to take it really seriously.”
Midwest Madness dates to watch:
- March 13: The official Midwest Madness bracket drops for Selection Monday
- March 14: The tournament begins with the first round of matchups going all week by region
- March 20: Round of 32 begins
- March 23: Sweet Sixteen begins
- March 30: The Final Four compete
- April 3: Championship Matchup
- April 5: Results Revealed and the 2023 Champion is announced
Starty for the party
A couple cities in Kansas and Missouri have led the way in community participation, with Columbia besting Wichita in the 2022 championship round.
READ MORE: ‘Homegrown unicorn’ helped this startup hub beat the bracket (and its top seed Kansas competition)
Along with bragging rights, Columbia received a trophy and party courtesy of M25, Birge said.
“Columbia, in addition to just taking the tournament really seriously, fully embraced the party that we threw there last year,” Birge said.
The event was hosted at EquipmentShare, one of the fastest-growing equipment rental and technology companies in the country, and had about 150 people in attendance, Birge added.
That was a departure from the inaugural tournament in 2021 — won by Bloomington, Indiana — when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented a party, Birge said.
“I think that in general it’s good for the city that wins, and even for the cities that don’t win but still make a good showing; it serves to reconnect everybody at least once a year to rally the troops for votes,” Birge said.
Ruth Brungard, platform associate at M25 and this year’s tournament organizer, agreed with Birge about Midwest Madness fostering a sense of community.
“It’s just a great opportunity to bring an ecosystem together that doesn’t necessarily interact, but can definitely come together for a common cause,” Brungard said.
College town streak?
Columbia also earned a seed line boost as defending champions — with M25 updating its seeding practices to factor in previous years’ results — jumping from an 8-seed in 2022 to a 1-seed in 2023. The city will begin its title defense against Terre Haute, Indiana.
Wichita is a 1-seed once again after consecutive runs to the bracket’s Final Four, and will begin its quest to capture that elusive title with a first round matchup against St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Kansas City earned a 4-seed for the second straight year and will face 13-seed Topeka in the first round. Last year, KC bowed out in the round of 32 last year to Champaign, Illinois — yet another mid-sized college town that punched above its weight class.
Click here to see the full bracket.
Birge expects the trend of college towns succeeding — both past champions are home to major public universities — to continue in 2023, predicting a college town would bring home the trophy yet again in 2023.
Click here to read some of M25’s hot takes and predictions for this year’s Midwest Madness.
She pointed out that the mid-sized communities have enjoyed an advantage over the big cities in voting, perhaps because their smaller size actually allows for more connectedness.
“M25 is bullish on the Midwest for lots of reasons — cost of living, access to talent — but I think that one unspoken reason we like the Midwest is that because it’s a smaller pond, it’s easier to make contact with the startups here,” Birge said. “It’s not as big of an ecosystem, but also the interconnectivity within the startup community just makes it easier for all of us to connect.”