Patty Gentrup of KCSourceLink speaks at the Forging the Future of Entrepreneurship event

What’s in Store for the Future of Kansas City Entrepreneurship?

What will the future of entrepreneurship in Kansas City look like? What’s needed to make sure small businesses in our region have what they need to be successful? 

On April 2, 2024, nearly 150 individuals – existing and aspiring entrepreneurs, organizations that help entrepreneurs, and other community leaders – came together at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center to help answer these questions. “Forging the Future of Entrepreneurship: Moving our Region’s Small Businesses Forward” was a special, one-time event that set a framework for the future of small business and entrepreneurship in our region. We’ll cover what came out of the event, but first … 

How did we get here? 

Since 2003, KCSourceLink – alongside a network of 235+ nonprofit partners – has helped lead the effort to make Kansas City the most entrepreneurial city in America. In the 21 years since our founding, we’ve done a lot to capture what the entrepreneurial community looks like, identify where entrepreneurs could use more help and work intentionally to bring entrepreneurs and those serving them together to fill those gaps and improve the community. 

Last fall, the Kansas City region was awarded a Regional Node Planning Grant, allowing us to revisit where we have been the past few years as an ecosystem, where we are today and where we want to be over the next 10 years. At the center of this work was the idea that – regardless of our role in the ecosystem – we must all come together to create the greatest impact for those who want to start and grow businesses in our region. 

With the help of 30+ advisory committee members, we spent the past few months facilitating focus groups (18 in February), having dozens of one-on-one conversations and pulling existing reports and more about our small business community. All of this led to this special day. 

State of the Entrepreneur Ecosystem  

In 2023, Americans filed 5.5 million applications to start new businesses, a new record for business applications. History and research tell us that new businesses create new jobs (of the 5.5 million applications filed in 2023, 1.8 million were identified to hire new employees). In our most recent “We Create Jobs” report, we found that KC startups – defined as first-time employers in the nine-county KC metro area with fewer than 20 employees – created 19,771 jobs in 2022. From 2018 to 2022, the cumulative job-creating impact from these startups resulted in 86,429 jobs, accounting for 66% of all new jobs and 8% of the total employment in the Kansas City metro area. 

Even with these numbers highlighting the impact of small businesses in our communities, it’s not enough to build a better environment for those who want to start and grow businesses in our region. We must dig deeper to identify solutions to issues so that we can create a space where all in our region feel supported and empowered to start or continue their entrepreneurial journeys. 

To better understand the state of the entrepreneurial ecosystem – what’s going well, where we need to improve and more – we collected quantitative and qualitative data. By working with stakeholders and reviewing documents and reports, we found out the following about KC’s regional ecosystem: 

  • Our entrepreneur support organizations are strong, but we need more coordination and capacity. 
  • Although the amount of capital has increased, there are still significant barriers to accessing capital, especially for people of color and women.  
  • Corporate engagement is vital to our ecosystem, with a need to capitalize on existing clusters and develop relationships among large and small firms. 
  • Converting intellectual assets at our universities into market opportunities is key. 
  • Attracting and retaining talent must be a priority; we must have science, tech, engineering, arts, math and entrepreneurship education at all levels and as part of continued professional development. 
  • Kansas City has a compelling entrepreneurial story to tell. We must tell it collaboratively. 
  • Entrepreneurship is one of the few wealth-building activities open to all people. It can generate new wealth at home and for others through job creation. We must push to develop this element of our ecosystem. 

Together, we are working to address these challenges. So much has been done, but there is so much more to do. More importantly, we need more people in our region to understand the role they can play in building a stronger ecosystem, supporting those who are already in the space. 

Creating a Vision: Turning Passion into Prosperity 

A vision statement is a guiding light for whatever it is we choose to do. It reflects our core values and culture, defining the hopes of our organizations and our communities. No matter what changes, our vision stays solid, allowing us to navigate the successes and challenges we face in our journey to make KC a great place for small business and entrepreneurship. 

Our vison statement: Greater Kansas City – Where everyone is empowered to pursue their passion through entrepreneurship, advancing an innovative and prosperous community. 

With this end in mind, let’s come together to support one another in achieving this vision for our region. 

Cultivating a Stronger Ecosystem 

So much has been done, but there is so much more we can do. As a community, we can work to support the key factors for building a stronger entrepreneur ecosystem. 

  1. Cultivate talent – We must focus on finding talent internally, externally and within partnerships. In addition, we must improve outreach to minority communities. 
  1. Fund entrepreneurship – We can increase events that build awareness for the types of funding available. Collaboration between organizations that support entrepreneurs (ESOs) and funding sources can help get more people in the room.  
  1. Support our partners – ESOs must be more collaborative on national grants instead of only competing for local funding opportunities. 
  1. Open doors to small business ownership – We can help small business owners develop financial acumen and learn best practices for managing cash flow. We also must tackle the lack of awareness of the existing resources that support business starts and growth. 
  1. Celebrate why the Kansas City region is the place for small business – We can identify the advantages of starting a business in Kansas City, using this as a model for celebrating our region. 
  1. Transfer ideas from the research lab to the marketplace – Increasing visibility to university projects is key. We should have a strategy to retain graduating students before they leave for other cities. 
  1. Engage all stakeholders in building small businesses – Envisioning new ways to support the ecosystem through inclusive collaboration and partnerships is key. 

Power of Entrepreneurship 

All of us who have been in the entrepreneurship space have a reason why we are here. These reasons transcend just starting new businesses and creating jobs. In our region, entrepreneurship has the power to impact so much more in our communities. From the maker who goes into business to build generational wealth for their struggling family, to the pioneer who wants to change the world with an innovative service, entrepreneurship does so much to shape where we live and the people we become. 

To those of us who have been in this space, we get it. We are aware how entrepreneurship shapes our communities and betters our lives. We must help others understand this impact, too. 

So much has been done, but there is so much more we can do. 

Next Steps 

Alongside our steering committee, we are finalizing a report that will publish in June 2024. We look forward to updating you on where we are as a community at that time and explore how we can move forward in making the Kansas City region the place where every entrepreneur feels empowered.  

In the meantime, reach out to us at [email protected] if you want to be more engaged in the entrepreneurship space, whether as an existing or aspiring entrepreneur or as someone who just wants to help in working toward our shared vision. 

Our success only goes as far as we are willing to work for it. Together, we are stronger. 

Helpful Links 

Whether you joined us April 2, 2024, or not, you can continue to be part of this work. Below are items we shared at “Forging the Future of Entrepreneurship: Moving our Region’s Small Businesses Forward.” 

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