Jeremy Hegle, Maria Meyers, Mayor Sly James and Sherry Turner at last year's Entrepreneur Day at the K.
Maria Meyers has been connecting Kansas City's startup founders and small business owners for 10 years in her work for KCSourceLink, which she founded in 2003. In that position, and as director at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, she's helped pull together partners and resources to give businesses what they need to be successful.
Recently, her work helped form the Digital Sandbox, which helps early-stage companies go from proof-of-concept to commercialization through funding, mentoring, research and more from corporate, academic and nonprofit organizations. As part of 1Week KC, the Sandbox will host an open house 3–6 p.m. Thursday.
To celebrate KCSourceLink's 10-year anniversary, we asked Meyers to reflect on the history of the organization and share her thoughts on the area's startup community.
Silicon Prairie News: Reflecting on the 10 years since you founded KCSourceLink, how has it evolved?
Maria Meyers: Well, it's a bit different from where we started in 2003: an empty classroom with 30 desks, one phone line and a one-page website.
KCSourceLink now has nearly 200 local resource partners available to help entrepreneurs—up from 45 when we started—giving us the most current and complete directory of community partners in town. The Resource Navigator tool on our website lets entrepreneurs quickly and easily find help on a variety of topics. And the KCSourceLink events calendar has become a one-stop shop for classes, networking and special events for businesses and entrepreneurs.
But, one thing hasn’t changed: KCSourceLink’s commitment to making things easier for entrepreneurs and small-business owners, and helping our local resource partners be more successful.
SPN: What's been the Kansas City startup community's biggest change over the decade?
MM: Ten years ago, people wanted help with financing, business planning, marketing and regulatory compliance. These continue to be our top requests.
But, there's been a shift with our resource partners. Entrepreneurship is getting a lot more attention and folks are jumping in. So, we've seen an increase in for-profit incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces. Another change has been the decline in services to the microenterprise market. We're working to revitalize this group by doing things like helping to bring back a microloan program.
SPN: What's Kansas City missing that other entrepreneurial hubs have?
MM: A Kauffman Foundation study found that Kansas City's dealmaker network is small and unconnected. In Silicon Valley, nearly 99 percent of serial entrepreneurs and investors know one another. We need to make better connections between the funders and entrepreneurs so more local investments happen.
SPN: What resource in Kansas City do we take for granted?
MM: In Kansas City, you're only two phone calls away from the person you need to talk with. And, once you're connected, they're usually happy to help. We take for granted the accessibility of people and resources in the local network.
SPN: The organization helps both small-business owners and entrepreneurs. What does a startup need for success that a small business doesn't?
MM: Startups often are working on proof of concept, market validation and managing early-stage cash flow. They may be building advisory teams outside the company rather than management teams inside. Connections to good mentors, access to early-stage funding with limited collateral and getting comfortable managing the P&L of a new business all are needs unique to startups.
SPN: You only have time to give an entrepreneur one piece of advice, not knowing anything about them or their company. What do you say?
MM: Seek help! Don't go it alone. And, don't suffer in silence. Other entrepreneurs and resources like KCSourceLink can help.
SPN: Digital Sandbox is a new project KCSourceLink has a role in. What is that role and what can we expect to see come out of that partnership?
MM: KCSourceLink created a network of resource partners and linked them to entrepreneurs. Whiteboard to Boardroom expanded the network to include the university research community. Digital Sandbox takes the network to the next level by bringing in the corporate community. We expect startups in the Digital Sandbox program to grow stronger faster, because they're tapping in to industry expertise, and a more comprehensive entrepreneurial ecosystem.
SPN: What resources do you see KCSourceLink adding and where would you like to see the organization 10 years from today?
MM: At any given time, about 83,000 people in the Kansas City metro area are thinking about starting a business. Who those people are changes every day, so creating awareness is a constant challenge for us. We want to continue building awareness of KCSourceLink and the community partners in the network.
As for the future, we’re thinking globally. The KCSourceLink model already has spread to 20 communities across the nation. Ten years from now, we hope to be talking about TorontoSourceLink, ParisSourceLink, CapetownSourceLink, etc.
Celebrate KCSourceLink's 10th birthday this week with a party featuring cupcake bakers from across the metro after 1 Million Cups Wednesday from 10–11 a.m. at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation—you can RSVP on its site.
Credits: Photo from KCSourceLink on Facebook.