Maria Meyers, director of the UMKC Innovation Center, has been pioneering programs that promote entrepreneurship since she joined UMKC in 2003. The tools: the interconnecting programs that form a network of resources for businesses in the Kansas City area and beyond. Each program is designed to work solo or in concert to form a symphony of services to help create, grow and sustain businesses — and to help them continue to thrive and reach new heights.
“The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce put together five big goals to take Kansas City forward into the future, and one of those goals was to make Kansas City America’s most entrepreneurial city,” Meyers says. “The UMKC Innovation Center has always had a strong role in creating a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem for the Kansas City region, and we’re helping out on this area too.”
Over time, local leaders developed areas for the community to work on together to buid a good entrepreneurial environment in Kansas City, Meyers said. The goals developed include:
- Improve capital structures and access in Kansas City
- Engage larger corporations into the ecosystem
- Increase the pipeline of new research that churns into economic opportunities
- Grow the talent needed to run the companies, with an emphasis on the IT talent
- Tell the story about Kansas City’s entrepreneurial successes
- Continue to offer great, organized resources to encourage business growth
“The business outreach services that the university has extended to the community have always been strong, and they have continued to grow over the past few years. And you see those embodied in the Innovation Center,” Meyers says. “Back in 2005, the university decided that they were going to put an emphasis on entrepreneurship by supporting the Bloch School’s Regnier Institute. We see a number of the schools involved in entrepreneurship, including the School of Law, School of Computing and Engineering and the Conservatory of Music and Dance. So, we certainly see it across campus.”
In 2014, the UMKC Innovation Center was awarded one of only eight “ScaleUP! America” program contracts from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Designed to both promote growth and strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the ScaleUP! program will select two cohorts each year to learn and grow by developing connections within the Kansas City region. These two business cohorts will learn to fine-tune their strategies to work in harmony through the FastTrac GrowthVenture entrepreneurship curriculum — a flexible, 30-hour course.
Since ScaleUP! is a five-year program, it will continue to grow, with two qualified business cohorts participating in each session. Meyers says it’s an example of how the Innovation Center is continuing to build on the business community and leverage funding outside of the community to support entrepreneurs inside the community.
“We keep building on our previous experiences, and we utilize the huge network of people in the community to support those businesses,” Meyers says. “So essentially what you can do is take an idea or business and wrap a lot of resources around it to help it grow.”
Meet the network
When entrepreneurs and innovation intersect, great things happen. UMKC offers a network of tools to promote startups and help them grow into thriving companies.
Artist INC is a collaborative partnership of ArtsKC-Regional Arts Council, Charlotte Street Foundation, the UMKC Innovation Center, and Mid-America Arts Alliance.
Originally launched in 2007 as KCArtistLink, Artist INC connects Kansas City artists of all disciplines to the tools, resources and opportunities necessary to develop their entrepreneurial skills and strengthen their artistic practice.
This group includes individuals looking for their next opportunity: middle-managers who have recently exited large corporations and have strong experience, and others who have the networks to advance technologies to the marketplace.
This network of 179 members can help evaluate technologies and may have the ability to start a company based on a technology — or suggest a entrepreneur in their network.
A new proof-of-concept center for Kansas City, Digital Sandbox KC supports early-stage commercialization processes including funding for early stage market validation, prototyping and beta testing services.
Since launching in 2013, Digital Sandbox has assisted more than 250 early stage entrepreneurs and funded 37 proof-of-concept projects, leading to $7.2 million in follow-on funding and 22 new companies.
Launched in 2003, KCSourceLink connects entrepreneurs to a network of more than 230 organizations that support small-business development.
This model is used nationwide as part of the larger U.S.SourceLink network.
Small Business and Technology Development Center
Specializing in technology commercialization, the UMKC SBTDC offers confidential one-on-one counseling, access to expertise, networking opportunities and educational programs covering a wide range of issues facing small business owners.
Whiteboard 2 Boardroom
Launched in 2010, the Innovation Center’s Whiteboard2Boardroom program helps usher university technologies to market. Its goal is to identify and get such technologies into the hands of big businesses and entrepreneurs.
Today W2B includes 21 academic and research partners who contribute to the W2B platform.