Texas goes to Kansas City for the Kauffman Foundation Eship Summit
I attended my first Kauffman Foundation event, the Eship Summit in Kansas City where 400 entrepreneurship community leaders met to share ideas and create a collaborative playbook for entrepreneurship community success. My takeaway—our big cities in Texas are in pretty good shape compared to most others, but we need to do a better job supporting technology entrepreneurship in rural communities.
The Kauffman Foundation is the non-profit name synonymous with entrepreneurship. It was established to honor Ewing Marion Kauffman, a billionaire entrepreneur from Kansas City, Missouri — but it’s impact is felt all over the country and all of the world. Many organizations in Austin and Dallas have benefited from Kauffman Foundation grants and they recently funded a research project at the University of Texas at Austin and programming at the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI).
Note: Jeff Harbach in Austin is the CEO of the Kauffman Fellows program, which originated in the Kauffman Foundation but is now a completely separate entity.
This was my first time visiting Kansas City. I’ll be going back again in August to view the solar eclipse. Kansas City seems to be the Austin of the mid-west. It’s a music town, a university town, and they have great BBQ. “The K” is the Kauffman Stadium where the Kansas City Royals play. Kansas City was the first city selected to receive Google Fiber and Austin was the second. The two cities are about the same size — around 2 million people in the metro area.
The Kauffman Eship Summit
This was also the first time I attended a Kauffman Foundation event and it was a high production value, thoughtful and well executed event. About 400 startup community leaders from around the country attended including tech hub leaders, economic development professionals, and youth entrepreneurship educators.
The event had some inspiring “Firestarter” talks but most of the time was allocated to small group workshops that gave each participant to interact with a number of different people at a meaningful level. There was plenty of time for socializing and networking and a science-fair style area for each program to show off what they are working on.
There are starting to be “regulars” at these community building startup events and we see each other every few months. You might think of it like the “Steve Case Band” tour and we’re all of the fans who travel from show to show. Google for Entrepreneurs is also a constant presence and supporter of these type of activities.
It was great to see Trey Bowles, John Reale, Preston L. James, II representing from Texas, Scott Resnick from Madison, Wisconsin, Christophet Gergen from North Carolina, Chad Troutwine from Kansas City, Laura Kilcrease from Alberta Innovates (former Austinite who founded ATI), Marc Nager from Telluride (yes, an Accelerator in Telluride), Rodney Sampson from Atlanta, Anna Kohanski Mason and Steve Case from Revolution Team.
What I learned
My biggest takeaway from this event was how fortunate we are in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio because we all have thriving entrepreneurship ecosystems with all of the raw materials to feed more growth. Our problems are about managing, focusing, and encouraging growth. We have first class problems.
Many other communities are starting from nothing. Not many people there care about being an entrepreneur and most don’t even know what a startup is. They aren’t always working with graduates from top universities and don’t have big employers in town who will sponsor all of the local activities.
This event gave me a sense of the fundamental work that the Kauffman Foundation does in many small communities to ignite the spark of entrepreneurship.
Brad Feld video conferenced into the event for one of the panels and said something that resonated with me (he does that a lot) about how the Colorado startup community needs to do a better job reaching out to the rural areas of Colorado that represent 25% of the people so they can be prosper from technology and entrepreneurship, too.
I think that the same can be said of Texas.