Kansas City Startup Village: a replicable recipe starts with fiber

KCSVI’m on a road trip this week! We stayed the first night in Kansas City to check out the Kansas City Startup Village (KCSV). I went with my dad (who owned a software company most of my life) and my 10 year old daughter, Aine. Matthew Marcus gave us a great tour of the Village. Here’s the Reader’s Digest introduction to the Village:

Kansas City was selected by Google to become a Fiber community. The installation started in a residential working class neighborhood with a small commercial presence – think 2 blocks of intermittent shops. At about the same time, Matthew inherited a house in the neighborhood and tried to rent it out. The only interest came from a local entrepreneur who needed more space. Suited Matthew, as he was an entrepreneur too. So a bubble started.

There was also an effort (led by Ben Barreth) to encourage locals to host hackers to take advantage of the Google access to build and innovate. A hiccup in that plan led to the Home for Hackers, a home for budding entrepreneurs. People win access to the house through contests and are welcome to move rent-free for three months.

This all started in 2012 and the KCSV was born. About half of the entrepreneurs attracted to the area have stayed in the area beyond their original planned tenure. Several entrepreneurs built businesses that outgrew their startup homes. Many have stayed in the area – mostly in Kansas City, MO, but more on that soon.

The bubble turned into a movement that made KC super cool and compelling to entrepreneurs.

Interesting – but so what from Minnesota’s perspective? Well, if it can happen in KC, why not Minnesota?

It seems like the necessary ingredients are big broadband (fiber), entrepreneurs and serendipity. (KCSV posts their core values, which help add perspective as well.)

Big Broadband

The need for big broadband is probably a no-brainer for most readers. (I wrote about how big broadband gives Korea a leg up yesterday.) But as a key ingredient to a community like KCSV, broadband is akin to the stone in stone soup. It’s a key asset that allows entrepreneurs to play in a global arena. It’s an excuse for others to bring their ingredients to the table.

KC got lucky – they got Google. But there are other ways – working with local providers, creating a cooperative, coaxing a national provider, starting a municipal network…

Entrepreneurs

Matthew made a point of mentioning that the effort was led by entrepreneurs. They have had some support from the Kaufmann Foundation (KC-based) but it sounds like that really came in the form of financial support to the entrepreneurs who built the KC Startup Village – because it’s a volunteer effort. So Matthew did not get paid to spend time with us on a Sunday, but he was there and was kind enough to invite us in. We learned a lot from him; he learned some from my dad. It’s a labor of love – but born of the enterprising understanding that any connection is a potential.

Once the bubble starts to form, it’s a matter of letting other entrepreneurs know about the opportunity – locally and beyond.

Serendipity

Luck (and serendipity) favors the prepared. Community and economic developers can help prepare a community to appreciate, promote and support entrepreneurs.

A fun discussion we had was role of parents in encouraging entrepreneurs. Matthew mentioned that his mom was a great support. My dad is and my dad carries that to my kids. (He is trying to talk my 15 year old into starting a henna tattoo business; she’s good at it!) Our parents realized that for us, entrepreneurship beats a job.

Communities can play the same role. Quit counting jobs only as a means to measure economic development. Offer support that entrepreneurs need. That’s different than what a big business needs. KCSV is one example – a space or reason to convene, basic incubator services or mentors, maybe help with promotion and financing.

(One quick side note – Matthew mentioned that most growing businesses moved to KC Missouri, not Kansas. My dad suggested that maybe KS needed to be aware of what growing businesses needed. Something to consider in towns in MN too. Do you have what a growing company needs to keep it from moving to the Twin Cities?)

A community or economic developer can also smooth the path. Matthew mentioned that there are challenges as well as advantages in the area. The Village houses (marked with the red flags shown here) are generally fixed up. The entrepreneurs try to be good neighbors. It brings economy and attention to the area. BUT that also means tours and maybe too much attention. The neighbors complained – but to the city council not the Village but once KCSV heard, the organization (again of volunteers) stepped in to fix what they could and explain what they couldn’t.

So again – what does this mean in MN? Well, we can learn from KCSV – check out what they have done and work on the necessary ingredients – broadband and more!

This entry was posted in economic development by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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