Editor’s note: Startland News is showcasing five Kansas City changemakers from five local organizations through its third annual Community Builders to Watch series. The following highlights one of the 2023 honorees, selected from more than 100 initial nominees. Click here to view the full list of Community Builders to Watch — presented by Cyderes.
Check out these Community Builders and their organizations in person, Friday, June 9 at Startland News’ Startup Crawl. Click here for free tickets to the one-night showcase.
Conversations around the dinner table centered around solving problems and building opportunities, said Maria Flynn as she recalled her childhood in Hays, Kansas.
“I grew up with pretty entrepreneurial parents. We were a farming family; but they also had other companies, and the kids were very much a part of their businesses. Growing something to solve a problem is what I find exciting — and that’s what entrepreneurship is,” said Flynn, the founder and CEO of Ambiologix and advisory board chair of Digital Health KC.
As an engineer-turned-executive (and then turned entrepreneur), Flynn’s journey has allowed her to grow a deep knowledge and appreciation for the digital health industry in Kansas City, she shared. Her experience as an environmental engineer and director at Cerner (now Oracle Cerner) allowed her to go on to found Orbis Biosciences, which exited in 2020.
Now, Flynn’s energy is focused on expanding her consulting business for entrepreneurs, as well as growing the recently-launched initiative, Digital Health KC. The initiative aims to support, cultivate and evolve the digital health ecosystem in the region, she explained.
“The launch of Digital Health KC comes at a really important time with Oracle acquiring Cerner,” Flynn noted. “Think back to when Marion Labs was acquired; I saw their talent go off and help other companies in other places. But what if we had a concentrated effort to capture that talent and create the next Marion Labs or next Cerner here? What more could we do? We have so many resources and talent here, that if we bring more awareness and do more with it, then we can create more opportunities.”
Click here to read more about the launch of Digital Health KC.
The catalyst for Flynn creating Digital Health KC happened at a healthcare investors’ conference.
“A digital health investor stood up and talked about all the cities he had watched for digital health innovation, and Kansas City wasn’t on their list,” Flynn said. “I knew that Kansas City is one of the birthplaces of the digital health industry, and we have so many talented people who have dedicated their lives to using technology to improve healthcare. It was important to plant a flag and get Kansas City on the map for our digital health presence.”
Digital Health KC was founded by BioNexus KC, a local nonprofit highlighting the life science resources and their value to the community through collaboration and commercialization. Flynn, who serves on the board for BioNexus KC, knew it was just the organization to bring people together, she said.
“BioNexus KC is the right home for Digital Health KC, and I certainly haven’t worked on this alone,” Flynn said, crediting the team at BioNexus KC, including Dennis Ridenour and Jennifer Lindholm, for their efforts in the initiative. Dick Flanigan, the CEO of Digital Health KC and former Cerner executive, was also fundamental in the initiative’s origin, she added.
For those in the digital health industry, Flynn encouraged them to put their company on Digital Health KC’s soon-to-launch Techmap, which is set to capture the various digital health companies in the region.
“That really helps us gather information, and we also have opportunities to contribute and join committees,” Flynn said. “… We’ve got a lot of ideas of what Digital Health KC can be, but we really want to have focus groups and get the voices of what our community wants. As we are creating our strategic plan, we want it to be representative of the industry.”
Outside of Digital Health KC, Flynn is working on her first book, “Make Opportunity Happen: 40 Methods Entrepreneurs Can Use to Align Their Stars.” It’s set to be released in early 2024.
“I found myself repeating the same stories and methods with different entrepreneurs,” Flynn noted. “I realized that early-stage entrepreneurs needed a book like ‘Make Opportunity Happen,’ which set me on the path to write it.”
“Make Opportunity Happen” provides the frameworks and structure to get things done. During Flynn’s personal entrepreneurial journey, she would often take a page from her entrepreneurial heroes’ and friends’ playbooks, she said.
“At their core, entrepreneurs are about making opportunities happen. When you see the big headlines of successful entrepreneurs, you think the stars must have aligned for these headlines to happen,” she noted. “But when you study their stories, you realize these entrepreneurs moved their stars into place with a lot of hard work, grit, guts, stamina and perseverance — rather than waiting for them to fall into place. This book provides methods to move your stars into place and Make Opportunity Happen.”
When Flynn isn’t working to make Kansas City’s digital health ecosystem stronger, working on her book or coaching entrepreneurs, she’s spending time with her three children or admiring landmarks across the city, she shared.
“My kids are at the age where we have a lot of soccer and dance,” Flynn said, smiling. “I love coming down to Union Station every week. We have a lot of special places in Kansas City. It’s important to make time for getting out and being with family.”
When Flynn envisions her hope for Kansas City’s tomorrow, she sees thriving digital health and entrepreneurial ecosystems, she said.
“I hope we see a lot more diversity in our founders than we saw 15 years ago,” Flynn said. “I’m hopeful that we can put a spotlight on people from different backgrounds so that more people know that they can pursue this path. The second part of that is improving our investments in early-stage companies — both in and outside of Kansas City.”
From jazz to football, Kansas City should also be known for its distinct and notable role in digital health, Flynn concluded.
“Just like the Chiefs and barbecue, Kansas City should be known for our digital health industry,” Flynn said. “We have a strong digital health heritage, a high concentration of talent and a great promise to grow the industry even more.”
Click here to connect with Maria Flynn on LinkedIn.
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