Diana Kander is an entrepreneur, investor and advisor to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. She acts as the organization’s entrepreneur-in-residence and helps foster community in KC’s burgeoning startup ecosystem. turnstone met with her to talk about the unique environment in Kansas City, and how the arrival of Google Fiber is helping entrepreneurs.
How has the arrival of Google Fiber impacted the startup scene in Kansas City?
Google Fiber has been a very important catalyst for the Kansas City entrepreneurship community. It basically allows for a lot of the groups that were distant before to start working together. So first, everybody started working together to bring Google Fiber to Kansas City. And then they came together to figure out how take advantage of Google Fiber — and all of those meetings and interconnection started building a much stronger startup community, completely independent of Google Fiber. That was the catalyst that really started bringing everybody together.
What is the KC startup community like today?
I think that most people who come to Kansas City for the first time are very surprised by how large and cohesive our entrepreneur community is, and there’s more than one entry point to get to know it. And the vast majority is volunteer-led. It wasn’t the local government that decided we needed a stronger entrepreneur community. It was entrepreneurs that built most of these programs.
For the first time, we’ve had a community where all the entrepreneurs come together to have things like a crawl, or maker events, or they get together every week at 1 Million Cups.
There are some residential “entre-communities” starting in Kansas City, like Startup Village.
What is the vibe like at Startup Village, and do you think these communities are likely to become a rising trend, both in Kansas City and nationally?
Startup Village feels like a family owns a bunch of little houses in the neighborhood. You can walk down the street and see a lot of people you know. They have lots of events together and it’s just very welcoming. Several people in the community have actually bought houses and are now either renting or giving to entrepreneurs. It’s just fantastic.
I don’t know of any other clusters like that, but I do know that several other local entrepreneurs are starting coworking spaces where they’re trying to create work environments with other entrepreneurs they highly respect. So it’s not like a real estate owner who has extra property, but it’s an entrepreneur purposefully deciding to start a space so they can spend more time with other entrepreneurs. They’re not doing it to make money. They’re doing it to build community.
What advantages does a city like KC have over other regions to create, grow, and cultivate new companies, particularly those in technology or creative services?
Kansas City has a lot of natural advantages. First, it’s a very affordable standard of living. It’s significantly cheaper to live in Kansas City than it is on either of the coasts. Another advantage is that the community really embraces new people. We have Midwestern values, and we try to help others. I think the entrepreneurship ecosystem is a very helpful one as a whole, but I think it’s especially helpful in the Midwest. So whenever someone new comes to town, nobody threatens them. They’re just trying to help in any way they can.
And number three is the strength of our community. I think it’s a very unique community that’s very, very large, and very, very positive. There were 290 people that attended 1 Million Cups this week. We get attendance that will rival attendance at entrepreneurship events in Silicon Valley, easily.
What else is special about 1 Million Cups in Kansas City?
Kauffman launched the first 1 Million Cups, and the whole goal was to get people in the community to share a million cups of coffee together so we’ll build a strong entrepreneurship ecosystem. And so it started as a Kauffman event, and then 1 Million Cups transitioned to a group of volunteers that now run it. It’s no longer run by Kauffman staff, but by local entrepreneurs. And we have launched in 14 total cities, and we hope to get to 20 by the end of the year. And in each of the cities, they are entirely volunteer and entrepreneur-led leadership.
What’s the importance of having these entrepreneur-led communities?
We really believe that communities are built by entrepreneurs — the strongest communities.
What are some startups to watch in Kansas City?
1 Million Cups has a special page for all the companies that have presented. We’re very excited about the potential for all the 1 Million Cups represent.
Riane Menardi is a writer, maker and community builder based in Des Moines, Iowa. When she's not helping her team at Goodsmiths serve handmade vendors, you'll find her writing and interviewing people about culture, space and startup life. Riane has recently taken to making her own cheese and refashioning clothes from thrift-store finds. She loves exploring her town (and its many microbreweries) from atop her blue bicycle, and has a yoga mat permanently stationed in her living room.