I’ve gotten many emails about how startup communities grow and develop completely separately from Silicon Valley. Following is an overview of what’s driving the Kansas City startup community right now, written by Herb Sih, the co-founder and managing partner of Think Big Partners.
The founders of Think Big Partners toured the startup scene in Silicon Valley before they launched their Midwest business incubator and startup accelerator. And although the Think Big team uncovered helpful tips during a tour of the Valley (like the impact of coworking spaces, the need for local funders and the importance of a tech culture), they seemed to learn one lesson that was much more impactful after returning back to their home of Kansas City: You don’t need to be like Silicon Valley in order to get Silicon Valley-esque results.
And that’s where Think Big Partners started. They asked themselves, “How can we make a Silicon Valley impact with our own Midwestern roots? How can we make a dent in the startup and tech worlds in our own city, on our own watch?” The team answered these questions by developing one of Kansas City’s first coworking spaces, which has been the second home to over 50 entrepreneurs and their startup companies. Think Big Partners also developed a business incubator and startup accelerator model that has helped to launch and grow some of the most successful Midwestern businesses today. With collaboration from other Kansas City entrepreneurial superstars such as the Kauffman Foundation, KCSourceLink, Kansas PIPELINE, the University of Kansas City-Missouri Bloch School and others, Think Big Partners helped to make entrepreneurial success one of the city’s main focuses.
And Think Big Partners’ launch was timed just right. Because soon after the launch of TBP, Kansas City (and the Midwest for that matter) underwent an immense entrepreneurial transformation.
Since the launch of Think Big Partners, entrepreneurship seemed to explode in and around the Kansas City area. Startup companies such as Zaarly, Dwolla and LiveOn have flourished in the Midwest. There has been so much startup success that the Midwestern region has become known as Silicon Prairie.
But it isn’t Silicon Valley that has defined the terms for Silicon Prairie. The Silicon Prairie area is an entrepreneurial movement in its own right. For instance, Silicon Prairie has become the home of the nation’s first Google 1-Gigabit Fiber Network, has been named the IT hub by The Wall Street Journal and is gradually becoming known as The City of Entrepreneurs. This has all been on Silicon Prairie’s watch—not Silicon Valley’s.
But how has this entire region grown its startup scene without help from Silicon Valley? The answer is obvious: with entrepreneurial attitudes. Silicon Prairie is all about collaboration. At one moment, you’ll see that H&R Block has rejuvenated its entrepreneurial mentorship program and the next, you’ll find that The Kauffman Foundation has invested in Kansas PIPELINE initiatives. In one instant, you will learn about Think Big Partners’ Gigabit Challenge business plan competition and the next, you’ll see five new coworking spaces pop up around the Midwest. Everyone is working on entrepreneurship together—making the Midwest one of the nation’s up-and-coming entrepreneurial hubs to date (we like to also call this “coopetition”—where competitors end up cooperating together instead of competing against each other. This is one of the main reasons that Kansas City and the Midwest have become so entrepreneurial.)
It’s not about having a Silicon Valley attitude—it’s about having an entrepreneurial attitude. It’s about partnering with other organizations in and around your area. It’s about thinking big with entrepreneurs that sit next to you in your coworking space. It’s about collaboarting with tech gurus, social media wizards and community leaders at cool business events. It’s the people that make a community an entrepreneurial one—not the location—and it’s up to you to contribute.