More than 15 years ago, entrepreneurs in Kansas City did have resources available to them, but finding the right one at the right time? That was a chore. Entrepreneurs largely had to do their own legwork to track down the incubators, microloans, coaching and counseling they needed to start or grow a business. So in 2003, the Small Business Administration, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the University of Missouri, Kansas City tapped Maria Meyers to address that need. About 50 entrepreneur support organizations came together to define goals to make it easier to be an entrepreneur:
- Create a greater awareness that resources for entrepreneurs exist
- Better connect resources so entrepreneurs can easily be referred to the right one
- Fill the gaps in services
- Increase funding to support resource organizations
- Measure economic impact as proof that services help entrepreneurs
And to achieve all those lofty goals, Maria created a central point that connected resource partners and entrepreneurs: KCSourceLink.
“Kansas City has always been a vibrant ecosystem that supports entrepreneurship,” she says. “KCSourceLink connected all the city’s resources and became a catalyst for entrepreneurial growth in the city.”
In the early stages, within the network, there was a sense that resources weren’t efficient or that there were duplicate services. But as things progressed, Maria and her team discovered that wasn’t the case. And Maria says trust among resource partners was an issue, so dissolving that perception took time—and some face time. So a young KCSourceLink took a boots-on-the-ground approach, offering incubator crawls, tours of locations tied to resources, and resource-partner meetings, which still happen quarterly today.
And Maria says being an entrepreneur wasn’t really a badge of honor back then, which (spoiler alert) today it certainly is, no matter if a business is on Main Street, working on a side-project out of a home or in an accelerator disrupting an industry.
Google Fiber came to town in 2011, and entrepreneurship was seen as a way to create jobs and bring growth to the area as one of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s “big five” initiatives. Maria says those developments were part of a sea change that came to Kansas City, and KCSourceLink took advantage, expanding on its key strategies of looking for and filling gaps in services for entrepreneurs.
“We try to help entrepreneurs understand which resources are the best resources at the right time,” she says. “We always have a conversation about which are the best fit.”
This community adoption of entrepreneurship as a catalyst for growth attracted more than 100 new Resource Partners to the network over the years. With the number growing, KCSourceLink had to devise a clever way for entrepreneurs to connect with … you guessed it … the right resource at the right time. Enter the Resource Rail, a track that shows entrepreneurs where and what Resource Partners to contact at each stage of business. A list of more than 240 partnersdoesn’t look so daunting now, right?
But that’s not to say everything is smooth-sailing nowadays. KCSourceLink continues to discover new gaps in the ecosystem and still helps Resource Partners fill those areas as it works to build trust with new groups of people. And KCSourceLink doesn’t want conversations with clients to be one-and-done but instead keeps the conversation going and checks in with clients at least once a year to make sure they’re getting the resources they need or to see if a business needs help as it enters a new stage of growth. The door is always open.
KCSourceLink has come a long way from figuring out how to find entrepreneurs to helping push Kansas City toward ranking as the No. 1 city to start and grow a business. (Apparently, it’s already No. 1 for millennial entrepreneurs.) As KCSourceLink monitored gaps in network support, capital, coaching, equity funds, microlending and grant support, that all led to sister organizations, like Launch KC and Digital Sandbox KC, which nurture and prime the burgeoning tech sector for more growth.
And word has gotten around.
“People say we’re collaborative, open—that what we’ve created helps move people along,” Maria says. “They can’t deny that Kansas City has grown in its ability to support entrepreneurs.”
Maria says going forward, the future is bright for those with the entrepreneurial spirit in KC as KCSourceLink tweaks its special sauce for the future. And being in the Heartland helps, as companies and entrepreneurs relocate to a thriving city that’s actually affordable.
“KC can continue to grow and be a financial hub,” Maria says.
And the services and reach at KCSourceLink have grown along with the organization. Recently KCSourceLInk has played a big role in building out capital resources for entrepreneurs at every stage of business. It also connects university innovations with serial entrepreneurs to spur faster commercialization. And it works with ecosystems across the country via its national affiliate program, SourceLink.
“We make sure that whatever entrepreneurs do, KCSourceLink comes to top of mind,” says KCSourceLink Network Builder Jenny Miller.
To do that, KCSourceLink partners with organizations that serve underserved populations. Hiring bilingual staff and linking up with organizations that work with the immigrant community are other steps the organization has taken to connect with new groups that need assistance.
In its latest achievement, KCSourceLink celebrated 15 years, and Mayor Sly James signed a proclamation declaring June 18, 2018, as KCSourceLink Entrepreneurship Day in Kansas City, Missouri.
Here’s to 15 more.