Some cities rely on great public transit, affordable housing, or some combination of loans, grants, and tax cuts to attract new businesses. Kansas City is trying something different: superior connectivity.
Better broadband services and improved digital connectivity are crucial for business development, and recent improvements in both are turning this once flyover city into one of the country’s top innovation hubs.
Kansas City’s journey to become a Silicon Valley for the heartland really took off in 2011, when Google selected it to be the first in the country to receive Fiber—a superfast broadband internet service that can deliver speeds up to 100 times faster than the national average. Google’s $300 million investment in the city created jobs for contractors and construction workers who built the system in the short term. But after Fiber went live, faster data speeds attracted dozens of startups from across the region and helped boost local startup hubs such as the Kansas City Startup Village, a community of tech entrepreneurs.
“[Kansas’] connectivity attracts more companies and improves the city from the ground up,” said Kevin McGinnis, founder of Kansas-based Sprint Mobile Accelerator. “You see a lot of, ‘We want to be the next Silicon Valley’ conversations when communities first start their journey to engage entrepreneurship, but they need to strive to find an identity. This is ours.”
Matthew Marcus is one of the many entrepreneurs who has relocated to the city. The co-founder of non-partisan site 1 Minute Candidate, which gives politicians a platform to engage with voters, moved his business from Boulder, Colorado to Kansas City last year specifically to take advantage of Google Fiber and work with the growing number of companies moving to the area.
“When I was building my company, I didn’t even know there was a startup community in Kansas City,” said Marcus, who is also the executive director of the Kansas City Startup Foundation. “Fast-forward to today, and it’s amazing. Ever since Google Fiber came to Kansas City a lot of other companies have followed—Kansas City is on fire right now.”
John Fein, founder of startup accelerator Techstars and managing director at Sprint Mobile Accelerator, agrees.
“[Superfast internet] has really been a catalyst for bringing startups together, whether in the Startup Village or rallying around the Smart City initiative,” he said. “It also lends certain credibility to a place like KC – it certainly helps in the marketing of our amazing city.”
The Smart City initiative that Fein referred to is a public-private partnership between the city, Cisco and business accelerator Think Big Partners that aims to use real-time data to deliver basic services more efficiently. Meanwhile, the city’s Living Labs program is focused on developing smart technology that will create and test applications to solve problems common in urban environments.
If the partnerships and entrepreneurial community weren’t enough, Kansas City also features interactive kiosks that provide information about downtown entertainment and services, free-to-ride modern streetcars and complimentary Wi-Fi at its downtown innovation district. In short, the city has the latest technology flowing through its veins.
While the city’s internet capabilities have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, Fein is keen to remind people that local entrepreneurs also play a major role in making the city a great place to launch a business.
“I think a big differentiator for KC is the people,” he said. “As part of my role at Techstars I’ve spent time in numerous other startup communities around the country. While each one has its own strengths, KC is the most welcoming community I’ve seen.”
Fein later added: “I think it’s an extension of the friendliness that characterizes the greater KC region, but it’s especially apparent in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Whether it’s making connections, providing advice, or helping to promote each other’s efforts, Kansas City is truly one of a kind.”