Q&A: Aaron Sloup of KC Hub talks innovation
Innovation is like hitting a grand slam in baseball. It changes the dynamics of the game, and though the innovator may get the credit for the swing, many players (scientists, engineers, investors, and academics) had to make it possible. KC Hub plans to help arrange a grand slam in Kansas City, engaging academics, innovators, entrepreneurs and others in efforts to cultivate Kansas City as an ecosystem for innovation.
KC Hub got its start in 2009 when co-founders Aaron Sloup and Ryan Weber realized that Kansas City didn’t have a strong fabric that connected academia, innovators and businessmen. To form a cohesive community similar to Silicon Vally or North Carolina’s Research Triangle, KC Hub officially formed in the summer of 2010 with plans to organize a community and network innovators with their product, Innovation Network.
I asked Sloup questions over email about KC Hub.
SPN: Tell us your background and what interested you in starting KC Hub.
My background is in software and business dev. I've always had an interest in entrepreneurship and that played into KC Hub's founding.
KC Hub started as a conversation between Ryan Weber and I about how Kansas City has all these great assets for innovation, from Kauffman Foundation to Stowers Institute to some cool software, web and mobile startups to companies like Smith Electric Vehicles to Kansas Bioscience Park. Despite having all these pieces, Kansas City didn't "feel" like other well-known innovation hubs like Silicon Valley, Boston or North Carolina's Research Triangle. Ryan and I thought there had to be a group with the goal of turning KC into an innovation hub. After digging in for couple months, we found there wasn't anyone pushing that broad agenda. At that point, we said either we can let this idea die or we can do something about it. We chose the latter, and KC Hub was formed.
SPN: Could you describe KC Hub and what it means to the local community?
KC Hub's goal is to transform the Kansas City region into an ecosystem for innovation. We realize that it's going to take everyone in the KC innovation community (and some that haven't even joined the community yet) to make that happen. We also realize that there are tons of great events going on, breakthroughs happening and a pieces of content being generated. So our main goal is to cultivate the innovation community by 1.) creating a place online where the community can come together to share knowledge, successes, meet one another, etc. and 2.) by sponsoring and promoting events that support our mission.
SPN: KC Hub focuses on innovation versus entrepreneurship. In your opinion, what distinguish the two?
We get asked that question a lot. I put a few thoughts about it in our blog awhile back.
Really, it's about the difference between making a buck and making an impact. If you focus on the latter and do something compelling, there are millions of ways to do the former. I usually go back to an example of opening a liquor store. Is that entrepreneurship? Yes, that person is running a business and making a buck. Nothing wrong with that, I need somewhere to buy Boulevard. But in doing that, are they making an impact? Not really. Changing the way we think, we live, we feel, we communicate, etc. — that's making an impact. That's what innovation is all about. And that's what KC Hub is all about.
SPN: You've mentioned opening up KC hub to content providers. How can people become content providers? Do you have certain criteria?
We're actually creating an open community that everyone can contribute to. Kind of Hacker News style, but with a focus on innovation and Kansas City. We're also opening up our calendar so anyone can contribute innovation-related events. Should be a fun experiment in building a regional community. Hyper-local is the new thing, and we intend to parlay that into building up KC's ecosystem so we can all use it to launch big ideas.
But back to the content partner thing. Our current content partners have been great. Essentially they're some of the organizations we consider to be the pillars of KC's innovation community. As such, we opened up some special tools to allow them to post news and events to our site. They also get a little more prominent posts, and have their logo displayed on our partners page. We're looking a few other things we can do to help provide value for our partners. As far as criteria go, we look at groups that are making a difference. We do take suggestions, but right now we hand-select each group — there's no real "application process" or anything.
SPN: Kansas City has had several big innovation announcements (i.e., Google Fiber, Pipeline partnership with Kauffman, etc). How is KC Hub positioning itself to help highlight and connect the community to these innovative initiatives?
We want to help bring attention to these types of things outside and across the innovation community. We want people at the events tied to these, talking to one another and cooking up the next big thing. Having SPN in KC is going to be a big help. If anything, we want to introduce new people to all the amazing resources that are already available and going under-utilized. It's the "you only use 10 percent of your brain" applied to a whole region; KC's only at about 10 percent of its potential right now. The great part is, we have the ability to unlock the rest. With every announcement like Google Fiber and Pipeline, we move the bar a little more.
SPN: What's next for KC Hub?
Making KC Hub an open community where anyone can post news and events is our immediate next goal. That will happen by the end of May. We thought this was a natural next step that needed to be done now.
After that, we'll be starting on our innovation networking platform, which is an open way to launch a big idea. A mashup of social networking, online business plans, investors, innovators, profiles, all with the goal of bringing big ideas to fruition. We wanted to experiment with the open community on KC Hub first to get a feel for what innovators want/need.
I speak for the whole KC Hub team when I say we're really excited about what's going to happen in KC over the next 5-10 years. KC and really the entire Silicon Prairie is poised to be the next major region for innovation. We're just excited to play a role in that.