Inspiration Becomes Reality

Photo by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Kickoff event launches Free Enterprise Center

A major investment in Kansas City’s future has been launched at a kickoff celebration for the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The Free Enterprise Center, a prototyping and product development hub, will be available to entrepreneurs, local industry, and high school and college students as they pursue entrepreneurial ventures.

Dignitaries from the greater Kansas City community and the state of Missouri were on hand for the project launch at the corner of Brookside and Volker boulevards.

Matt Condon, representing the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, walked with his two young daughters, Audrey and Rachel, to a “piggy bank” fashioned from large interlocking gears, created by a 3D printer. The two generations dropped dollar coins into the bank, signifying a vital investment in the community’s future.

Along with several other speakers, Condon said the new center will help carry on the traditions established by many of the great entrepreneurial leaders of Kansas City’s history, such as Ewing Kauffman, Henry W. Bloch and many more.

“Those leaders dug wells that we have been drinking from for decades,” Condon said. “This facility is us digging a well.”

Those joining Condon to make the symbolic investments included UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton; Mike Nietzel, senior policy advisor to Gov. Jay Nixon; Donald L. Cupps, chairman of the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri System; UM System President Tim Wolfe; Wendy Guillies, president and chief executive officer of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; Peter J. deSilva, trustee of the Robert W. Plaster Foundation; and UMKC student Daniel Galarza.

Morton described the array of community partnerships that will be involved in the center, designed to support entrepreneurship, science and technology activity from middle school to business start-ups.

“The Center will be an important new addition to our campus, of immense value to our students and our faculty, particularly in the Bloch School of Management, and the School of Computing and Engineering. But that’s just the beginning. Entrepreneurs from throughout our community will have access to the awesome technological capabilities of this center, and the extensive array of supports provided by the UMKC Innovation Center, including KCSourceLink,” Morton said. “Young people from high school and even down to middle school will come here for inspiration, coaching and guidance. Our goal is to ignite their interest in careers in the vital fields of science, technology and engineering; and put them on the path to realizing those dreams.”

He also said he was grateful for the unique public-private partnership that funded creation of the center. The $14.8 million building is being funded under a 50-50 matching program for public-private partnerships to fund capital projects at public colleges and universities in Missouri. Multi-million dollar grants from the Robert W. Plaster Foundation of Lebanon, Mo., and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation are providing the private half of the match. JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced last year that it would donate a $50,000 grant for tech equipment for the center, including 3D printers to help it develop new products.

“Generous private donors, and state government, have joined forces here to make a significant investment in the future of Kansas City,” Morton said. “Without the generous support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and the Robert W. Plaster Foundation, we would not be here today. I also want to again thank Gov. Jay Nixon, and the Missouri Legislature, for forging this innovative partnership with our donors to make this great day possible.”

Nietzel said Gov. Nixon “is very grateful to UMKC for its ongoing contributions to the success of its students and the overall strength and vitality of the Kansas City region.”
Condon serves as Champion of the effort to brand Kansas City as “America’s Most Entrepreneurial City” – one of the “Big Five” primary civic goals identified by the Chamber.

Condon said that goal “challenges us to lead by action.

“Building the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center is something the most entrepreneurial city would do, and I am proud that we are doing it,” he said.

The Free Enterprise Center will include laboratory space, rapid prototyping equipment and educational/collaborative space. The center also will support business and technology transfer advisors to serve UMKC students, faculty and researchers, as well as local industries, entrepreneurs, artists and K-12 students.

The center also will provide the KC STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Alliance space to work with high school students on projects that involve robotics, manufacturing, material science and engineering design. UMKC Enactus students, who compete in entrepreneurial challenges, will work with these students on the entrepreneurial and business aspects of technology and manufactured products and projects.

The facility also will be used as a laboratory, incubator and prototyping center for all students within the School of Computing and Engineering and all entrepreneurship students within the Bloch School of Management.

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