Q&A: Investor Kelly Sievers on Midwestern fundraising, diverse teams

For Kelly Sievers, investing doesn’t just hinge on dollar amount.

“It’s also about finding the right kind of funding for your business,” Sievers, managing director of the Women’s Capital Connection, told a group of small business owners at a recent Kansas City SCORE mentoring event.

Sievers, an entrepreneurial advisor for the Women’s Business Center, has owned, operated and sold businesses since graduating from college.

“A lot of times when people think of entrepreneurs, the first thing that comes out of their mouth is that they’re risk takers,” Sievers said. “Well, a lot of entrepreneurs don’t feel that way because they feel that it’s less risky to run a business than it is to go work for somebody else.”

From microlending programs to crowdfunding to angel investments, Sievers ventured into a variety of capital sources during her presentation.

Afterward, Missouri Business Alert caught up with her to dive deeper into trends in raising capital in Kansas City.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Hear more from Sievers in the Speaking Startup podcast.

Missouri Business Alert: Can you describe your journey as a businesswoman?

Kelly Sievers: I was fortunate to grow up with a dad as an entrepreneur. And so when I got out of college at 24, I thought I just needed to own my own business. Retail sounded fun. So with my dad’s financial help, I purchased a gift shop in a hotel, and then ended up purchasing two more gift shops, and ran those for about five years. In 2003, I went to work with the Women’s Business Center, which is part of the OneKC for Women alliance.

MBA: What are the top three tips would give to an entrepreneur who is just getting started?

KS: Find mentors. Find programs. Don’t think you can figure it all out by yourself, please. It’s really a lot to learn. If you have the opportunity, work with a smaller type of entrepreneurial company before you launch out on your own, so you can learn from a small business. A lot of entrepreneurs don’t go through programs or learn from other people’s successes and failures. What the entrepreneur always says is “Ready, fire, aim,” right? So you just do it.

MBA: What should entrepreneurs and small business owners keep in mind when they’re seeking capital in Kansas City?

KS: Try to find the banks that are the most active in (Small Business Administration) funding or in lending to startups. It’s also about building relationships. You need to be careful and learn because you might be giving up a bunch of your company for very little money. That’s why you go talk to people who have been there, done that — who have experienced a lot of things. A lot of times people also think they can get by with just a little bit of money. Other times, people will take money early. Both are not smart ways to grow.

MBA: What trends are you noticing when it comes to different types of funding available?

KS: There are a lot more funding mechanisms in Kansas City now. A lot of people think having an investor sounds really sexy. Well, it might not be the right type of financing for your business. You might need to go get some money from friends and family or a bank loan or just a loan from somebody. You have to make a lot of effort.

MBA: How do you view the narrative that it’s more difficult to raise money in the Midwest?

KS: There is a lot more focus on Mid-America than there has been for a long time, mostly because of the cost of living here. I mean, people are pricing themselves out of the market on the coasts. There’s a lot of work being done here locally, because we have a lot of agriculture and ag-tech being developed in Kansas City right now. We have the internet here too, you know! I do think we are a bit more conservative and that we don’t tend to fund what we call “back of the napkin” ideas, but we are always looking to fund good deals.

MBA: What exactly qualifies as a “good deal”?

KS: Yeah, there’s a lot of things you need to have to get funding. You should have a product. You should have some customers. You should have a clear-cut path to gain market share. You should have a good, thought-out exit strategy.

MBA: There has been an increasing emphasis on access to capital for underrepresented founders. What is the scope for growth of such companies and what remains to be done on this front?

KS: The statistics prove it out. Companies that are run and invested in by both men and women are more successful companies. I think it’s really important for companies to have diversity because I think you get a lot of different perspectives on things. If you get a whole bunch of exactly like-minded people in a room, you’re never going to grow because you aren’t going to hear different ideas. There are actually certifications for minority-owned businesses, like the Women Business Enterprise and Minority Business Enterprise certifications. A lot of times, women will say, “Well, I want to do it on my own. I don’t want people to give me a contract just because I’m leading a woman-owned business.” But I think those are just different things you could put tools in your tool kit to have and to help you grow your business.

MBA: What fiscal resources does Kansas City offer to entrepreneurs looking to access capital?

KS: There are a bunch of good resources out here like KCSourceLink; they are the navigators. Then there’s the KC Small Business Development Technology Center and the Digital Sandbox, which is proof-of-concept funding. Funding also comes from some friends and families. A lot of these organizations are funded heavily by the SBA, Small Business Administration. There’s also the Women’s Business Center, if you’re a woman starting up or growing your business, and SCORE mentoring events are great starting points.

This story was produced through a collaboration between Missouri Business Alert and Startland News.


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