“When Google selected Kansas City for the installation of Google Fiber, that was a validation point of just how relevant as a tech community we really are,” says Drew Solomon of LaunchKC and the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City (EDC). “The fact that a technology brand with the reputation of Google chose Kansas City first really gave the city and region a lot of pride in our identity as a nationally relevant tech community.”
Yet with success comes a familiar question: what’s next? A discussion among members of the Mayor’s Bistate Innovation Team tackled that very theme three years ago—more specifically, what can Kansas Citians do to further elevate the city’s standing as a technology leader? One answer: LaunchKC.
After enlisting the help of two civic partners—the Downtown Council and EDC—a year ago, Solomon and LaunchKC secured a $250,000 grant from the Missouri Technology Corporation, along with matching funds from civic, corporate and philanthropic partners. The funds will be awarded in LaunchKC’s global grants competition, which will provide ten $50,000 grants to early stage entrepreneurs and their tech ventures.
The grants competition is undoubtedly the current primary focus of LaunchKC—Solomon refers to it as the organization’s “calling card.” Yet LaunchKC is much larger in scope than a single event. Think of it as a platform (or a launch pad—see what we did there?) that provides a foundation for resources and programming that align with four priorities:
Those priorities are already in action, similar to a ripple effect. The grants competition has already attracted applications from 12 states (including those on both coasts) and three countries. And “it was paramount in the decision that brought Techweek to KC,” says Matt McGraw, Chairman of the Downtown Council’s LaunchKC steering committee and President and CEO of DSI. “Once they heard about the grant program they knew for sure that KC was a place they had to be.”
For the first time, Techweek is, as the song says, goin’ to Kansas City. The “weeklong celebration of technology and innovation” includes an info-packed conference, an expo that highlights new products and insights, a hiring fair, the LaunchKC grants competition and more.
“Techweek has been a fascinating new partner for LaunchKC and the Kansas City area,” says Mike Hurd, Director of Marketing for the Downtown Council and LaunchKC. “They bring a national audience that we can talk to about what we’re doing in Kansas City. We have a pipeline to a much broader constituency.”
When you’re building awareness, greater access to a national audience is significant. And what’s more important? They’re listening.
“This is a transformational period and Kansas City is stepping out and speaking more confidently and boldly about why you want to be in KC,” Hurd says. “The national audience is listening and they’re paying attention. It’s really a special moment that Kansas Citians have longed to see.”
There’s also a fascinating dichotomy at play throughout the metro area. When you think of LaunchKC and other citywide technology initiatives, it’s second nature to also think of start-ups. Yet it’s some of Kansas City’s more longstanding companies—and their executives—who have helped earn national and international recognition by becoming global players in their respective marketplaces.
“DSI was founded more than 30 years ago and, since then, has not only grown to include offices in Canada, the UK, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong—we’ve also positioned ourselves as a global software solutions provider thanks to the strength and agility of our mobile supply chain solutions,” says McGraw. “We created our flagship product, the DSI mobile platform, in anticipation of the quickly changing technology needs in the marketplace. Kansas City is taking advantage of similar technology-based opportunities in a number of industries, in large part because of initiatives like LaunchKC.”
Kansas City is undoubtedly in the midst of a technology-fueled evolution—and it’s also teetering on a critical precipice. The pace of technological change isn’t poised to slow anytime soon—and that will have a big impact on the future of cities.
“In the next 20 years, you’ll see cities that become globally relevant and become major power brokers and you’ll see others fall off,” Solomon says. “Kansas City is at an inflection point where we either grow to be a globally relevant city or we fade into obscurity. I think the CEOs of Kansas City and the civic leaders are all coalescing around this notion that Kansas City wants to be a global player. Programs like LaunchKC and continuing to push the envelope are what’s going to get us there.”