I love being part of the Fearless City.
You’re probably not familiar with that phrase. “City of Fountains” and “Heart of America” are certainly better-known ways to refer to Kansas City. But becoming known as “America’s Most Entrepreneurial City” is one of our Big Five goals as a community, and when you think about it, “Fearless” is an essential characteristic of any town that aspires to that description.
It takes nerve to step away from the security of a steady paycheck and create something totally new. But that’s what this city has always been known for. At UMKC’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management, we’ve been celebrating that kind of entrepreneurial courage for 30 years now. That’s why the recent 30th anniversary gala of our annual Entrepreneur of the Year awards was entitled “Fearless City: Celebrating Those Who Fearlessly Create.”
It was truly an honor for me to stand at the podium at that celebration; to look out at an audience that included the likes of Henry W. Bloch, Barnett Helzberg and William Dunn Sr.; and to cite the many examples of entrepreneurial drive, creativity and courage that define our Fearless City.
At first, they were fledgling startups. Now they are household names. When we think of them, and what a leap of faith they took to begin and persevere, we think of AMC Theaters, Hallmark Cards, Russell Stover Candies, H & R Block, United Missouri Bank and Sosland Publishing, to name a few. Some of these folks started out going door to door to get their name out. Look where they are today.
That tradition has continued through to the present day. Our local entrepreneurs with a national or global reach are a blend of timeless business principles and cutting-edge technology: Kansas City engineering firms, such as Burns and McDonnell, Black and Veatch, and HNTB, creating projects across the globe; J. E. Dunn, a design-build and construction management provider; Cerner, applying technology to improve health care; Garmin Industries, reimagining devices to assist us in our daily lives; Freightquote, helping businesses deliver products at the best price; Sprint, positioning itself to once again dominate in phone service; MRI Global, researching life sciences, energy and food safety; the Stowers Institute, where discovering the causes, treatment and prevention of disease is their primary goal; and the Roasterie, making us fall in love with coffee all over again.
I was proud to help present our three Entrepreneur of the Year awards that evening: to Jaspreet Singh, Student Entrepreneur of the Year; to Danny O’Neil, “Bean Baron” at The Roasterie, Regional Entrepreneur of the Year; and to Gary White, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Water.org, the Marion and John Kreamer Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
And I am just as proud of the role we play, as Kansas City’s university, in empowering that fearless creativity. We give risk takers the fundamental educational tools; we offer seminars, certificate programs and special post-graduate classes; we sponsor venture creation contests and provide management training; and we link would-be entrepreneurs to others with a willingness to invest. These are the reasons why UMKC and the Bloch School are an essential component of Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Finally, let me once again congratulate and thank the fearless creators who are the focus of this celebration. You have all learned a similar lesson about the secret to entrepreneurial success, even if each of you expresses it in a different way. I particularly like the one offered that evening by our student entrepreneur, Jaspreet Singh, who is inspired by his love of flying:
“Aviation teaches you that the thing that is pushing against you is the very thing that will eventually lift you and make you soar,” he said. I can’t put it any better than that.