I was contemplating an internship abroad around mid-March. Columbia and Argentina were at the top of my wish list, but I had an “anywhere but here” sort of attitude. I had myself convinced that Kansas City, Kan., my hometown (Shawnee, Kan., to be specific), was a good place to grow up but not a good place to be a curious, enthusiastic young person. I guess life proved me wrong this time. I’m only a couple of weeks into my summer, but I am convinced that Kansas City is, in fact, one of the most opportune cities for tech, business and education enthusiasts of all ages (including us nearly-20-somethings).
Here are the series of events that changed my mind:
Having been a fan of TED videos for years, I was ecstatic when I heard that a localized version of the conference was coming to Columbia, Mo. I skimmed the list of speakers, but I had a limited idea of what to expect. The conference ended up being six hours jam-packed with ideas – especially related to technology, social media and communication. The conference’s theme was feedback, and the day separated talks into the categories of “Go Big,” “Go Beyond” and “Go Within.”
One of my favorite talks from the morning was by Nate Olson. Olson’s talk started with coffee and ended with a big idea that caught my attention. Olson began 1 Million Cups a little over a year ago. The event started as an internal sort of meeting at the Kauffman Foundation where Olson works. 1 Million Cups then expanded to the general public in Kansas City. Every Wednesday morning, two area entrepreneurs present to a full room of local business people and interested residents. Now 1MC has expanded to seven other cities including Des Moines, Iowa and St. Louis. I left TEDxCoMo feeling inspired and unsure how to act.
Kansas City Startup Village (KCSV)
On my first Saturday night home from college for the summer, I felt really bored. So much so that I started researching non-profits (OK, that’s actually a fairly normal night for me). The Kauffman Foundation came to mind, and so did 1 Million Cups. I stumbled upon information about Kansas City Startup Village during this stalking process, and it just so happened they had an open house on Sunday, May 19. Kansas City Startup Village, I found out, is a startup community in Kansas City, Kan., sparked by the Google Fiber access in the area.
On Sunday, May 19, I went to the open house with my family. The public could tour the two main buildings the startups are located in, and my family chatted with a few of the 20 startups now based in the “village.” One startup, Leap2, provides a new type of search engine which integrates social media results for real-time searching. Another, EyeVerify, has developed technology for IOS and Android that eliminates the need for a password with “eye vein biometrics.” The best part of the event for me was realizing the make-up of the startup community. Many attendees looked to be my age or barely older.
1 Million Cups
In the process of my KCSV discovery, I texted a business-minded friend of mine about my excitement. In one of the most wonderful “No way” moments of my life, I found out she knew a couple of people who helped run 1MC, and she had attended 1MC before. We quickly made plans to attend after I explained to her how interested I had been in the event since TEDxCoMo.
I finally got to see 1MC in action on May 22. A technology company and honor-system grocery store were the featured businesses. By the end of the morning, I had a chance to talk to several Kauffman Foundation employees, and an editor for Silicon Prairie News, a Midwest-based media website that features entrepreneurial and technology news. People of all interests and backgrounds seem to flock to 1MC. The weekly event is connecting people in Kansas City in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
1Week KC and Maker Faire
Remember all that talk about traveling abroad this summer? One of the main reasons I changed my mind was a fantastic internship opportunity I had with Union Station this summer. I started my first week with Union Station on May 28 and was excited to hear I would mainly be helping promote and organize Maker Faire. Maker Faire is a festival highlighting makers, inventors, crafters at Union Station the weekend of June 29 to 30. The event is sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation and is going to be incredible. Some of the featured performers and inventors have YouTube videos online including ArcAttack and EepyBird. ArcAttack quite literally makes music with 10-foot lightning bolts, and EepyBird is known for its choreographed Diet Coke and Mentos experiments.
1Week KC is a week of events leading up to Maker Faire meant to bring area entrepreneurs together. I can’t wait to connect with area interns, thinkers and innovators.
After all of these discoveries, I realized how much I had underestimated my hometown. Young, vibrant tech communities are popping up across the country, and it is starting right here. Ideas that originated in Kansas City are expanding to make the Midwest one of the most exciting places for entrepreneurs to be right now. I didn’t used to know what to say when people would ask me about Kansas City. I am so proud to be from Kansas City now. I feel connected, and I feel part of something big.