Corporate Engagement with KC Entrepreneurs Needs Work: Here’s How We Fix It

Here’s the truth: About half of S&P 500 companies will be replaced in the next 10 years, according to a 2018 study, but an often-overlooked collaboration might be key to corporate longevity: engaging with entrepreneurs and universities, especially here in Kansas City.

KCSourceLink has released its first We Create Corporate Engagement report, which outlines actionable takeaways that corporations, entrepreneurs and universities must leverage to cement Kansas City as an innovative leader.

“It’s no secret: KC has ground to make up with corporate engagement,” says Jenny Miller, senior director of ecosystem development at the UMKC Innovation Center, of which KCSourceLink is a program. “Over the past two years, we researched, conducted focus groups and talked to many corporate leaders and entrepreneurs to find out what is already happening around corporate engagement in Kansas City and what we, as a community, could do to open more doors and build better partnerships between entrepreneurs, corporations and universities.”


The report outlines five key strategic exchanges that can further corporate engagement: sponsorship; people, place and product; research and development; customer and vendor sourcing; and investment. The report also explores:

–  the importance of corporate engagement to Kansas City’s entrepreneurial community
–  local and national best practices to bolster the five key exchanges
–  how to choose the right corporate engagement strategy
–  how to measure the impacts and outcomes of corporate engagement
–  examples of corporate engagement in Kansas City and beyond

The biggest incentives to bolster these exchanges lie in the benefits. Entrepreneurs create jobs. Startups create more than 58% of the net new jobs in Kansas City, which account for a cumulative five-year total of over 75,000 jobs, from 2014-18. These young firms also draw talent and spur innovation, valuable benefits that help corporations stay at the top of the pack. Corporate exchanges also help entrepreneurs gain new customers, access industry knowledge, open new markets, contribute to KC’s innovation pipeline and more.

It’s incredibly important for corporations to work with entrepreneurs because we’re outsourced R&D,” says Donald Hawkins, founder and CEO of startup Griffin Technologies. “Startups are told to do customer discovery, and sometimes that’s tough, especially if you don’t have the ability to reach the decision-makers and the people who can guide your company.”

And that innovation goes both ways. Corporations that desire sustainable growth and long-term viability can utilize key relationships with entrepreneurs to harness technology and accelerating markets. Entrepreneurs also can help these corporate entities foster internal innovation, build the brand, drive new markets, attract talent and more.

Kansas City Southern, as one example, turned to Plug and Play—a Sunnyvale, California, accelerator—to find startups offering innovative solutions, rather than spend the time and resources to grow innovation from within the company. Read more about Kansas City Southern’s partnership with Plug and Play.

For Kansas City to become America’s most entrepreneurial city, it requires an unprecedented level of partnership among regional entrepreneurs, investors, businesses, nonprofit groups, lenders, educators, public officials and residents to create a more cohesive, better-funded entrepreneurial ecosystem.

And it requires building a better infrastructure for entrepreneurs that promises access to capital, talent and support for business development and the rich resources that exist in Kansas City’s corporations.

–  Download the We Create Corporate Engagement report.

–  Share what’s happening around corporate engagement with your company and tell us how you want to get involved.

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