The pilot Mid x Midwest event in fall 2022 supported the idea that early-stage tech founders and investors are hungry for more conversations post pandemic, Dan Kerr and Maggie Kenefake shared, spurring the return of the invite-only meetup in November.
“We both showed up that morning to Hotel Kansas City and we walked into the lobby and it was just abuzz with one-on-one meetings,” explained Kenefake, founder of Iron Prairie Ventures. “It was packed with people. That was how the day began and the momentum just kept building all day. It was everything we’d hoped it would be and more. There seems to be incredible value derived from the event.”
“I talked to a number of folks who were saying, ‘I met half-dozen investors that I want to stay in touch with,’” added Kerr, a Flyover Capital partner. “And I sat next to a lot of founders who were talking with each other about different elements of business. So it was pretty resounding to say we need to do it again, and let’s try to make it just a little bit bigger, but kind of keep the same format.”
This year’s event — set for Nov. 7 at Hotel Kansas City — aims to bring together 60 founders of KC-area B2B software companies and 60 venture capitalists for one-on-one conversations (up from 50 of each in 2022).
“(Last year’s event) brought in some fantastic investors and firms from across the country,” Kenefake noted. “It was a great opportunity for venture-backed and venture-ready companies here in Kansas City to be seen and begin building relationships with firms across the country. And that’s exactly what we wanted to do was to showcase what this region has to offer and what’s happening in the Midwest.”
Although B2B is the main focal point, Kerr said, he is encouraging any founders that are touching high-growth technology to fill out the simple application form, which is due Sept. 15.
“Last year, we had, I think, over 600 scheduled meetings through the app that we had available,” he said. “I think there were probably many more that were ad hoc, so that was a good indicator that there was a lot of activity happening. For those who attend, they have access to the full attendee list and they can do matchmaking with the investors that are there.”
The format for this year’s Mid x Midwest will be similar to the debut event, but with a new addition of a corporate component in the morning, Kerr shared. Over lunch, there will still be a panel discussion and the afternoon will be open for curated networking.
“The primary goal is to get lots of connections started,” he added. “And then we offer an open format in the evening for people to just dive in and continue the conversation and go as late as they want to go.”
In the morning, he continued, they will be adding a corporate innovation and venture session in partnership with the KC Tech Council.
“One thing that we’ve continued to work on trying to unlock for our founders — and frankly, one of our primary indices as investors — is the corporate community,” he explained. “We would love to see Kansas City’s corporate players be great adopters and partners to technology. Where we see communities really thrive, that’s the case.”
Kenefake and Kerr developed Mid x Midwest in 2022 because they believed the community was not gathering frequently enough, and investors needed an excuse to step foot in Kansas City, they shared.
“The first event really came from Dan and I seeing each other at different events around the country and sort of scratching our heads and wondering why there wasn’t something like this in Kansas City that brought people in to show them the kinds of firms and the kinds of startups that we were building here,” Kenefake said.
“As an investor who has a big stake in seeing Kansas City thrive, I just felt like the activity was not there,” Kerr continued. “I’m a big believer in making the pie bigger. Some of these investors are technically competitors of ours, but we also co-invest with them and we network with them. But if we can get more velocity going and provide a venue for that, all parties benefit. That leads to more companies getting funding or more relationships — this isn’t all about funding. That starts to grow more success stories; more success stories lead to more investment opportunities, and it’s a virtuous cycle.”
Kerr hopes the event also plays a small role in increasing the number of companies in Kansas City that receive funding from venture capital firms, he said.
“Kansas City, for all its efforts in entrepreneurship and innovation — if you use venture-backed companies as a barometer for success, which is not by any means the only barometer, but it’s one — the dollars have gone up, but the number of funded companies has only kind of incrementally moved up,” he explained. “So 2013 to 2022, we only had about a 10 percent increase over that decade in the number of venture-backed companies, and meanwhile, countrywide you had a 77 percent increase. So a region that’s trying to grow and outpace growth to catch up has not done that in some ways.”
Mid x Midwest, he noted, will hopefully provide some early-stage tech founders more shots on goals by ensuring they have access to conversations with founders.
“There’s definitely an art to raising money,” he said. “If you only knock on a few doors around Kansas City and you don’t get outside of that, you don’t really learn what investors are expecting or where the market is for capital.”
“So having this event where you can have 10, 15, 20 conversations in a day can really move the needle for some folks,” he added. “And they can continue those conversations for months or even years and into the future.”