KC ‘Startups to Watch’ eye expansion, look to leverage advantages amid pandemic

From disruption amid the pandemic to resilience and rebuilding, some Kansas City startups have big plans for 2021.

In Kansas City, Startland News detailed 10 companies expected to fuel the city’s startup scene in 2021 during its annual Kansas City Startups to Watch event presented Wednesday.

For companies like Bar K and Scissors & Scotch, the pandemic hasn’t slowed growth as they look to expand beyond Kansas City. For the biotech and telehealth industry, the pandemic has actually created an increased need for services and businesses like SureShow and Ronawk.

The 10 selected startups were narrowed down from 250 by Startland News, which looked at nominations and recommendations to deem the companies best positioned to make headlines and grow in the year ahead. Founders and CEOs of the startups gathered for one-on-one interviews to discuss the pandemic’s effects on their businesses in 2020 and how they see their startups growing in 2021.

Expansion beyond KC roots

As more households decide to get new pets amid the pandemic and work from home, business is booming for Bar K, which combines a bar, restaurant and dog park. Spread over about two acres, the venue’s abundance of outdoor space has been an asset during the pandemic.

Bar K plans to open new locations and expand to St. Louis and Oklahoma City in 2021. To date, the startup has raised about $2 million, with investors like Purina.

“There’s just a whole bunch of factors that have lined up in our favor,” co-founder Leib Dodell said.

Dodell said you don’t need a dog to go to Bar K, which was founded in 2016, to enjoy its live music, cocktails and furry friends.

“Bar K is all about being able to include your four-legged friends with all your two-legged friends and your social life,” he said.

Another bar-inspired business, Scissors & Scotch, also plans to extend its business beyond its Kansas City headquarters. The old-school barbershop with new-age amenities like a bar space was originally founded in 2015 in Omaha, Nebraska. The scaling business now is preparing to unveil its 12th location in its ninth U.S. market, Washington, D.C.

Co-founder Sean Finley said the business is lucky to have a more resilient business model, and that haircuts are essential, which helped Scissors & Scotch weather the pandemic.

“People can only grow their mullets out so far before their significant other snaps,” Finley said.

Employee numbers on the rise

With its biggest customer being the public sector, Replica is not slowing down either in 2021. The company, which makes data analysis software for urban planning, is growing quickly and more than doubled its headcount in 2020. Replica is spread across the Kansas City area, Utah, California, Colorado and New York, CEO and co-founder Nick Bowden said.

“We’ve been very lucky and had a great year on a lot of fronts,” Bowden said.

Daupler, another startup on Startland’s list, has also seen its staff numbers and customer base balloon amid the pandemic. The company, which uses AI to facilitate communication with local government and utilities, is already in 22 states, CEO and co-founder John Bertrand said. Its goal is to expand and be in 250 cities.

“We also saw some of our large customers, like the city of Oakland, that really kind of double down on our system and that partnership with us that turned into long-term contracts,” Bertrand said. “It’s positioned us pretty well to go into 2021.”

Increased demand

The pandemic has brought about many new needs, including the need for more telehealth and biotechnology.

With the pivot to a more virtual world, the health care industry has grappled with delivering more of its services online. Shelley Cooper co-founded SureShow with the goal of turning no-show appointments into cash flow for health care providers as the need for online doctor’s appointments increases.

“With SureShow’s basis of replacing no shows with telehealth visits, it’s really allowed the opportunity for more people to see their doctors more often,” Cooper said.

In the same realm, Ronawk, which has developed technology designed to accelerate stem cell production, has also seen an increased need and interest for its services. Co-founder A.J. Mellott said the pandemic gave the startup an opportunity for more business, and that Ronawk aims to secure a manufacturing partner for large-scale production in 2021.

“Our hope is that right here in the Midwest, we can be one of those companies that’s a major manufacturer one day,” Mellott said.

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