As a typical Midwestern city, Kansas City and its successful entrepreneurs often are overlooked in economic development studies. We find, however, compelling evidence that the region has ample entrepreneurial success to celebrate, study, and share since numerous Kansas City area firms have appeared on Inc.magazine's list of the fastest-growing companies. We recently interviewed the founders of some of these firms in the city's information technology, biotechnology, and business services sectors about their views on the strengths and viability of Kansas City's entrepreneurial ecosystem. We gained valuable insights for area policy and economic leaders.
Key findings of our interviews include:
-Lack of venture capital or angel investment does not hinder the growth of Kansas City firms. Only a small percentage of the high-growth firmsinterviewed reported receiving investment from Venture Capital or Angel investors. Instead, most high-growth firms were self-financed or received financial assistance from founders' close friends and families. Some bootstrapped by adapting their firms to customer needs to achieve growth, while others scaled up only as revenues increased and additional customers were found. No matter how they were funded, the firms successfully grew their revenue.
-Kansas City firms enjoy a substantial pool of talent in the region. Growing firms often have a long-term employee development strategy to hire young people and train them to be first-class professionals, including technical experts. Entrepreneurs also find the region's low cost of living and strong, Midwestern work ethic to be major strengths.
-Most Kansas City entrepreneurs find support from customers, vendors, and/or collaborating firms in the region. This finding runs somewhat contrary to Swiss researcher Heike Mayer's recent conclusion that firms in the Kansas City region are disconnected. These regional connections lead to the firms' innovations and growth.
-A number of high-growth firms serve only the Kansas City area or a limited market of regional cities, yet they see this limited regional focus as a business strength. Entrepreneurs and their support community should take note that a firm does not have to capture a national or global market to be highly successful.
-Most Kansas City entrepreneurs report that locally based mentors have played a significant role in their success. Whether through informal or 2 formal channels, connecting experienced entrepreneurs to aspiring or nascent entrepreneurs and allowing mentor-mentee relationships to grow organically should be goals of the city's entrepreneurial support community. Further research is needed on how best to create and implement local mentorship programs.