Q&A: 1Week KC organizer Matthew Marcus discusses the annual startup celebration

1Week KC, a week-long annual event to celebrate Kansas City startups and connect entrepreneurs in the area, is back for its sixth year. The event starts Friday and runs through June 23.

Missouri Business Alert spoke with 1Week organizer Matthew Marcus, executive director of Kansas City Startup Foundation, to get his perspectives on this year’s events and his thoughts on the Kansas City startup community.

Matthew Marcus | Courtesy of Marcus

“We welcome anybody that is interested in entrepreneurship,” Marcus said. “Come and get involved, because you never know who you are coming to meet and what you are going to learn.”

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Missouri Business Alert: In looking at the week’s schedule, if you could only attend one event, what would it be?

Matthew Marcus: The one that I enjoyed the most in previous years is the Startup Crawl. It’s on the first day, so it’s one of the kick-off events. 1Week is a really celebration of Kansas City’s startup community, so certainly there’s some learning and networking and stuff along the way. But it’s really about having some fun and kind of taking a week off and enjoying the community. The Startup Crawl is all really all about that. You traverse different startup places and see startups showcasing and see who is doing what. And you eat, drink and have fun along the way. It’s just a good time.

MBA: What are some other highlights on the schedule?

There’s Startup Games, which is on Monday. We’ve done that in the past, but this is the first year that KC Crew is leading the efforts on that, so that should be a lot of fun. Then the last day is E Day at the K. We all go to the Royals game and tailgate. It’s just a nice way to end the week with a fun Royals game.

MBA: Previously, KCSourceLink was the organizer of this event. Why did the Kansas City Startup Foundation take the responsibility this year?

MM: KCSourceLink I think has done it the last couple of years. This year they’re focusing on GEW, Global Entrepreneurship Week, which takes place in November. So I think they’re really focusing their full attention and efforts on that event. So they passed 1Week our way.

We were really excited when they decided to let us organize it, because it fits our mission so well. One of the things that we like to do through the foundation is to find a way to connect individuals, especially all those different stakeholder groups that we represent. And 1Week KC is a perfect opportunity to make that happen.

MBA: What is new or different about this year’s event?

MM: The timeline. We start on a Friday and end on a Friday, which is unique. Usually it’s kind of a Monday to Friday thing. … We’re only doing one or two events per day. I think in years past, there might have been even more (events) per day, but sometimes people can get burned out, especially if you’re attending so many events every day. We just want to provide one to two.

So I think that, and then it really is a focus on fun. There are certainly events that have learning opportunity and a little bit of education, but honestly when you think of Startup Games, E Day at the K and the Startup Crawl, these kinds of event are just networking and getting to know one another.

MBA: As director of the Kansas City Startup Foundation, what are some barriers you see Kansas City startups dealing with?

MM: One of the things that makes our organization unique is that we are really focused on the community as a whole. … We don’t really provide specific business resources or educational programming to help them with building their companies. Thankfully, there’s other organizations like KCSourceLink and others that do that type of work.

So we really focus on the ecosystem overall, and some of the barriers are just helping people understand their role in the ecosystem. Take corporations, for example. A lot of times corporations think that startups are their enemy, because if their employees leave to go start a startup, then it is bad for them. But in reality, it’s actually good because you get this kind of cyclical thing. A vibrant startup community could be very beneficial to a corporation for a variety of reasons. So I think the barrier is just in the education component.

The Kansas City ecosystem is doing really well. If you look at the actual metrics or the numbers, the Kauffman Foundation puts out their annual Startup Activity Index report, and Kansas City keeps rising in the ranks. I just read the other day that Kansas City is in the top 25 tech communities. So we’re doing something right. The way we define an ecosystem is you get the five core pillars: first and foremost, the entrepreneurs; then you get corporations, government, schools and students, and investors. Thankfully, we have activities across all of these sectors here in Kansas City.

One area we are probably suffering … is the investment landscape. It is getting better. Five years ago, it was really not very good. But we’re still working on finding ways to get that risk and venture capital available to startups of all stages, so they can raise money locally and not have to raise money outside of the region.

MBA: What are some potential solutions to that issue?

MM: There’s a couple things, actually. One of the things that we understand is there actually is a lot of money in Kansas City. There are wealthy individuals, but many of them don’t either have a connection to the startup community or don’t understand the potential benefits of investing into startups. So a couple of things have happened. KCSourceLink has championed a program called “We Create KC,” which is really to monitor the investment landscape to see how many investments are being made into companies, to see how much money is available, etc. It helps individuals and organizations that have money to invest understand, “Oh, there are some good results happening.”

There is another program called “KCInvestEd.” It is an educational resource to help those individuals who want to learn more about the potential of investing into startups. But it’s not a hard sell.

MBA: How can startup support organizations like yours do better to support and connect Kansas City’s startup community?

MM: I think everyone has a role to play in this startup community. The real thing is that you just have to show up and you have to be involved. Everyone has a lot of experience, like corporate leaders. They have a lot of experience in leading corporations and business leadership. If they show up to events and make themselves available, then without a doubt, their experience will help startups and entrepreneurs. That is the role that we play because a lot of them don’t know they can help in very impactful ways, just by showing up and participating. That is what we connect. We reach out to the corporation, or they reach out to us, and we make sure they get plugged in correctly. So if you want to see the Kansas City startup community grow and prosper, just get involved.

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