Kansas City’s collaborative spirit lies at heart of inaugural iKC
H&R Block's headquarters served as the venue for the first iKC conference.
It's not an "i" word, so it didn't fit neatly into the branding of iKC, a conference that aimed to innovate, ignite and inspire. But collaboration was an awfully popular topic on Wednesday at H&R Block world headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.
For one, the very existence of the conference was a testament to Kansas City collaborating; iKC was a joint effort of The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and Think Big Partners, who decided to team up for a conference on entrepreneurship and innovation for the first time this year after holding separate conferences in years past.
"In the name of trying to promote the city and get people inside the city to work together, I think it was mission accomplished," said Herb Sih, the co-founder and managing partner of Think Big Partners. "I think we reached a different audience."
That audience was treated to a spread of panels, pitches and speeches sandwiched between opening and closing remarks and a midday keynote.
In that keynote, Michael Raynor, the director of Deloitte Consulting, delivered his "Innovator's Manifesto," discussing how deliberate disruption can lead to breakthrough growth. Innovate? Check.
On that same stage earlier Wednesday, Josh Coleman, the director of sales and marketing for AgLocal, reflected on his experiences with the Kansas City startup and, before that, Zaarly in a talk about user acquisition. "Breathe and live your passion for your product," he told the audience in one of the conference's "Inspire Talks." Inspire? Sure. It's right there in the name.
Later, during the conference's "Fire Up" session, 12 presenters took five minutes each to cover 20 slides discussing either disruptive innovation or the answers to "questions you didn't know you had." Ignite? Well, presenters didn't just pitch; they fired up.
But for all the 'i's that were dotted throughout the day, collaboration was just as prevalent of a theme.
In a morning panel discussion about building tech companies in the Midwest, Jason Tagte of Farms Technology said entrepreneurs don't need to jet to the coasts to find people willing to share skills and insights. Such resources, he said, are plentiful in the Midwest. "It's all about creating an environment where people are willing to share that answer," Tagte said. "They happen here. They happen around a few beers in a backyard somewhere."
For Tagte, it took plopping down $150 to attend an event hosted by Cerner co-founder Neal Patterson. After Tagte initially balked at attending because of the price tag, he decided to pony up the money. Today, Tagte's relationship with the Cerner exec is such that he can email Patterson with any business problem and expect a response in short order.
In an afternoon panel, representatives from companies like Sprint and Hallmark gathered to discuss innovation in big ecosystems. When someone in the room posed a question about big companies incorporating outside innovation, collaboration again took center stage.
"We're wanting to work with people, and we're asking people 'What do you want?' " Sprint's Von McConnell said. "We're looking for you all to tell us how we can help you."
At day's end, Sly James, the mayor of Kansas City, Mo., and Joe Reardon, the mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., addressed the crowd (pictured above). Once more, joint effort was emphasized.
“We share really a common group of people but for a river or for a (state) line," James said. "(There's) no reason we shouldn't work together.”
Reardon said Kansas City must team up to tackle tough challenges if the region hopes to realize its full potential. “The more that we figure out how to eliminate the barriers to this region, the more likely it will become that we will rise and become what I call a 'high-performing' region," he said.
“And a lot of that has to do with technology and the application of technology and entrepreneurialism. And some of the things that you are focusing on today are fundamental to making sure that this region can take the next and real substantive step to making this region high-performing."
After the mayors' remarks, as the last of the conference-goers filed out of the auditorium and to a happy hour — call it liquid collaboration — Sih reflected on the day, stressing the importance of attendees building on the relationships and ideas fostered at iKC.
"Tomorrow or soon, before it becomes never, take that next step," he said. "You know, have that conversation, turn it into an opportunity to be able to do something with today."
Credits: Photos courtesy of iKC.