After a successful debut in 2022, Kansas City’s Innovation Festival is returning in August with more beats, beer, and biologics, shared Sonia Hall, teasing the addition of burgeoning businesses and a berry.
To industry insiders, the event — planned for Aug. 3-5 at Crown Center — is a deep tech conference (with the addition of a startup pitch competition this year), noted the CEO of the Shawnee-based nonprofit BioKansas. For the general public, it’s a music festival and beer tasting, plus a chance to shop from local Strawberry Swing vendors.
“That’s kind of the way we want it,” she explained. “We want the general public to feel welcome, to feel part of our community, and to be able to come out and kind of celebrate all the work that these individuals that invest every day into developing deep technologies. We can kind of celebrate those accomplishments together.”
In its inaugural run, the economic workforce and community development effort drew more than 5,000 people to the music festival and brewery showcase and more than 400 to the tech conference, which exceeded expectations, Hall noted. Of those that attended the conference, 46 percent were from outside of Missouri and Kansas.
Click here for more information about the Innovation Festival.
“What we want to do is raise the visibility of the innovation ecosystem that we have here in the Midwest.” she said, “and make sure that people show up and they leave with this undeniable understanding that we’re a place of innovation and that there’s a lot of tremendous work in advancement that comes out of our region.”
“Most of the time, we often hear of our region being referred to as ‘flyover territory’ and we’re dismissed at the national level when it comes to being thought of as being able to succeed and grow a hub where we are,” she continued. “So we want to just really elevate the type of work that’s already happening here and then continue to support that ecosystem so that it grows over time.”
Although the goal of the Innovation Festival remains the same, Hall said, a few changes are planned this year: starting with the location. In 2022, the conference portion was held at Children’s Mercy Park. This year, both the conference and the other festivities are set for Crown Center with the two-day conference at the Sheraton.
“It’ll be nice to eliminate (going back and forth) to a great degree this year, although [the Children’s Mercy Park] venue is gorgeous and they’re so amazing to work with,” she explained. “It’s kind of like, ‘Yes, we get this ease by being in one location, but still it’s hard to leave that behind, too.’”
With the success of 2022, Hall said, organizers also plan to expand the programming. The speaker count is set for 120, up from about 75, with three concurrent sessions running in the morning and four in the afternoon. Then, per requests, the festival has integrated other industries outside of biotech.
Click here to register for an Innovation Festival badge.
“We’ve worked for the conference programming to be inclusive of engineering, digital technology, and computer and data science, as well,” she continued. “We’re still bringing in technically trained talent from around the country and matching them with regional employers, but we’re just going beyond matching them with biotech companies. We’re also matching them with engineering companies this year.”
This year, BioKansas — with the help of KCSourceLink — has added an Innovation Festival pitch competition for startups in three industries: ag and food tech, health and therapeutics, and digital health. The competition between 15 finalists is set for Aug. 3. Grand prize winners in each category will receive $2,000, plus free access to BioKansas Bio Business Solutions partner program and a one-year membership to BioKansas.
Organizers plan to bring in investors from outside the region to hear the startup pitches, Hall said.
“What we find here in the Kansas City area is that we don’t have investors that really invest in deep tech-types of companies,” she explained. “So we’re bringing them in from the outside to be able to introduce them to the ecosystem that we have here and to highlight and elevate the different startup companies that we have here — and outside of our region, as well — and just create a platform for those startup companies.”
Beats, beer, and berries
As in 2022, the music festival planned for Aug. 5 at the Crown Center Square is set to feature indie rock bands, Hall said, noting performers were expected to be announced this year. Local favorite the Greeting Committee was among the 2022 headliners.
“Indie rock is often a genre of music that doesn’t get as much notoriety,” she added. “Of course, we’ve had some really exceptional bands out of that genre of music. But we just think that it’s a really good match with the things that we’re trying to accomplish for our region — the same thing that those musicians try to accomplish for their own art every day.”
Instead of starting earlier in the day, she said, the bands will play on two different stages, starting at 4 p.m.
“I think the biggest lesson learned is that the weather in August in Kansas City is a little bit uncontrollable,” she added. “So heat was a big factor (last year) and it did lead us to kind of flip our schedule a little bit.”
A showcase of breweries — which Hall called everyone’s favorite biomanufacturers on the Innovation Festival site — also is set for Aug. 5. This year, she noted, a free-to-the-public Strawberry Swing Street Pavilion Night Market is planned.
“We’re really excited about that because we can bring artisans and local businesses down to Crown Center and just have anyone from the general public be able to show up and enjoy that,” she explained. “They don’t need to have a ticket in order to be able to get into the night market. There’ll be a bar down there as well and it should be a good time.”
Tickets to hear the bands and for the brewery tastings are $20 each.
“Beats and beer and a great night market all for 40 bucks can’t really be beat,” she added.