An article in Bloomberg Technology caused quite a stir in Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem in February. The title? “Why It’s So Hard to Build the Next Silicon Valley.” The premise (and subtitle)? “Google brought its high-speed internet to Kansas City, but it didn’t turn the city into a tech paradise.”
The article put a lot of entrepreneurs and advocates in Kansas City on the defensive and many took to the internet to voice their opinion and to paint a more detailed picture of what it’s like to be and support entrepreneurs in the Midwest.
One of those defenders is Jeff Shackelford. With years of startup and Fortune 100 experience, and from his perch as director of Digital Sandbox KC, a KCSourceLink Resource Partner, Jeff asked (and answered) the question on many people’s minds—why would Kansas City want to build the next Silicon Valley?
Here’s Jeff with hometown perspective on Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and what the future should/would/could hold for the community:
I recently read an article that further shows you can slant a story anyway you want and it seems many authors write to match their preconceived notion–whether it’s true or not. The article that got me thinking about all this was on the Bloomberg Technology website by Sarah McBride. It was titled “Why It’s So Hard to Build the Next Silicon Valley” and was subtitled “Google brought its high-speed internet to Kansas City, but it didn’t turn the city into a tech paradise”. Now I don’t know Ms. McBride and haven’t read any of her other writings so nothing I say is personal as I’m sure she is a terrific person. But the notion that Kansas City is trying to build “the next Silicon Valley” makes me think she walked into KC with her headline already written
First, why would ANY city try and build the next Silicon Valley? Good luck moving Stanford! As we’ve learned here in KC, it’s best to utilize your existing strengths and resources to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem unique to your community’s needs. As evidenced by the continuing praise and published rankings, KC is one of the hottest entrepreneurial cities in the US and the world. We’re doing just fine and you can actually afford to live here.
Secondly, had Ms. McBride done proper “due diligence,” she would have learned that Kansas City’s entrepreneurial history is older than Silicon Valley’s and runs deep, so we don’t need to be anybody’s “next.” Joyce Hall invented the greeting card and founded Hallmark Cards in 1910. Henry and Richard Bloch founded HR Block in 1955. Sprint’s roots trace to 1899 as the Brown Telephone Company. And just about the time the term “Silicon Valley” was gaining widespread use, Neal Patterson, Paul Gorup, and Cliff Illig were forming Cerner, now one of the world’s largest healthcare IT companies. And that’s just a few, I didn’t even mention KS Southern Railways, DST, Garmin, Lockton, Seaboard, JE Dunn and many others.
Instead of trying to use someone else’s formula, what I’ve seen is a city capitalizing on its unique existing resources (including being the first city for Google Fiber), recognizing gaps in the ecosystem and working to fill them. Kansas City is continuing be build a cohesive, comprehensive, sustainable ecosystem to support the city’s broad unique entrepreneurial community…the only “next” were trying to do is build the “next” generation of great Kansas City companies. And with recent exits like BATS $3.2B (that’s billion with a B) purchase and Eyeverify being the first investment by China’s Alibaba ($100M), we’re doing just fine!
So, here’s my thought, all you “Silicon Valley” groupies who are tired of paying $3000/month for a 300 square foot box you call home, move to Kansas City! You can actually have a home with a bedroom that’s not part of the kitchen; your commute could be a 10 minute walk or a 20 minute drive, your choice; you can catch the railcar from Union Station to River Market...oh yea, almost forgot, we’ve also got Google fiber!
Jeff’s article, “Why would KC want to build the next Silicon Valley?” was originally published on April 6, 2017, in Startland News.