Dan Kerr joined a chorus of area officials and investment leaders singing the praises of a region on the rise Tuesday during a Midwest-focused venture conference in downtown Kansas City.
“I hope you engage with the city and see some of the awesome stuff going on here locally,” the event co-founder and partner at Flyover Capital told about 250 Mid x Midwest attendees — many of them visitors from venture capital firms across the Midwest and both coasts.
Excitement about and for Kansas City — and how far the city has come — was echoed throughout the summit, which brought together more than 70 venture capital firms and more than 60 founders of KC-area, early stage B2B software companies, among other attendees.
Kansas City’s investment scene has evolved significantly over the past 15 years, said Brian Scharf, managing director at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, noting people like him have moved back from the coasts, in part thanks to investments in infrastructure meant to attract more people from outside the city.
“There are good investors across the landscape in Kansas City that are looking for either startup companies or startup funds that are more open to having conversations,” he explained in a fireside chat with Maggie Kenefake, general partner at Iron Prairie Ventures, and one of the co-founders and key organizers of Mid x Midwest. “There are more pools of capital today than there were 15 to 20 years ago. You see companies that have been sold and spun out or have family offices or they have other entities or corporations that are doing more investing in startup situations. All of those things I think are helping the city grow.”
When she left a role at the Kauffman Foundation in 2007, Kenefake shared, there wasn’t a single venture capital firm in the city.
“Now our most storied firms are on funds three and four,” she added. “There are a lot of emerging managers and you’re seeing people leave their first exited startup and start the second go-around. But it’s still early days for our region.”
Kansas City’s tech landscape in the fields of cybersecurity and biologics are clearly emerging, said Jody Brazil, CEO of FireMon, and Daniel Kennedy, vice president of BioNexus KC, in an Innovation Pathways panel moderated by Chris Simpson, a partner at Polsinelli.
Brazil — who previously was the CTO of Fishnet Security — said Kansas City is a great place to grow a cybersecurity company.
“We’ve got companies from Israel and Silicon Valley that have opened up significant hubs here in Kansas City because of the talent pool that exists that largely came from these early stage companies all the way back in the late ’90s (like Fishnet). It just reinvents itself,” he explained. “It’s, of course, great, smart people, but there’s also an element of industry experience that then reinforces itself and allows this industry of cybersecurity to thrive within the city.”
In the biotechnology sector, Kansas City is celebrating recently being designated as one of 31 U.S. Tech Hubs — an achievement through which BioNexus played key role.
“While I was on vacation last week, we found out that we got it, which was very difficult to not pick up my phone every minute,” Kennedy said. “We not only got the award, but we actually skipped strategic development, which is an interesting stamp of approval.”
“But it also means we did not get funds from the EDA [U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, which administers the program] to help develop the next stage of the application,” he added. “And the next step of the application is supposed to help build out economic development, technology development, workforce training and infrastructure.”
During a welcome address, KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas also lauded the Tech Hub achievement and what it means for the city.
“Maybe all of you graduated as a top 10 percent of your class,” he said, reiterating that KC was one of 31 picked from more than 300 applications. “But for those who did not, it’s really hard to do. We did it. And Kansas City is in an incredible position — not just to potentially have $75 million of federal investment — but to have multiples of that type of investment here as we look to the future of Kansas City, not just in tech manufacturing and bio manufacturing.”
It is an exciting and thrilling time in Kansas City, continued Lucas, who also mentioned the city’s new airport terminal, the extension of the KC Streetcar line, and the city’s recent Emerging Partnership Agreement with the Department of Transportation.
“The cities that are growing and dynamic are ones that are known as a creative and cultural crossroads for investment, for people,” he added, “And more than anything [they’re known as places] where ideas could get support, not just by those who are also interested in those areas, but also from investors. So thank you, Mid x Midwest, for bringing it all together.”
Check out a brief photo gallery below from Taylor Wilmore and Nikki Overfelt Chifalu, Startland News.