KANSAS CITY—They are huddled in conversations out back, over computers at the front, and around tables in the kitchen. Across the neighborhood young software entrepreneurs are collaborating and loving it, sharing ideas, knowledge, and startup experiences. Welcome to Google Fiber in Kansas City.
Straddling two states, Kansas City is actually two cities side by side, KC Missouri and KC Kansas, and the metropolis is known for its friendliness, its grit, and its entrepreneurial spirit. Walt Disney was from here, and so is designer Kate Spade. High tech companies Sprint and Garmin, the global GPS outfit, are also headquartered in KC, but it was Google Fiber that really got things going.
Offering free installation and one gigabit per second Internet speeds for a base rate of $70 per month, Google Fiber has already begun installations in what it calls “fiberhoods.” Although it is only focused on residential properties, the Internet giant has signed up 180 “fiberhoods” in KC and has plans for the whole city, as well as for others.
But KC is the first city to have Google Fiber and is drawing a lot of attention.
“Kansas City is now one of the five fastest growing startup communities in the world,” says Ryan Weber, president of KCNext, a local tech industry advocacy group.
Weber acknowledged that it is Google Fiber that is attracting talent, but he says KC’s entrepreneurial spirit and supportive community is making the difference.
The two city mayors, who do not always see eye to eye, are united on this. They have developed a bi-state plan to optimize the Google Fiber initiative. The idea is to make it a lot easier to get things done.
Having the Kauffman Foundation based in town also helps. As one of the world’s largest non-profits devoted to entrepreneurship, the Kauffman Foundation is working with local leaders to embrace the surge of startup interest.
At their KC headquarters May 29, the energy was high. It was 1 Million Cups day, a weekly coffee event organised at venues around the country and designed to support emerging entrepreneurs. In KC it is fast becoming the place to be. A couple of startup founders deliver a six-minute talk on their projects, followed by a 20-minute discussion. The audience ranges from fellow web developers and entrepreneurs, to academics, investors, the supportive, and the just plain curious.
Around 60 people turned up last week, although there were more online. Tony Schmidt from giftprofessor.com, a website designed to make gift shopping easier, and Ben Kittrell, from online free website builder doodlekit.com, made their pitches.
Audience members were on their sites instantly, testing, questioning, pointing out weaknesses, and offering improvements.
At the end of his session Kittrell thanked everyone and said, “I am happy to meet anyone for coffee. I need to get out of the house,” which won a chuckle.
Kittrell had made a point. Online workers and developers spend a lot of time at their computer screens, and often have little human interaction. It is those interactions that are part of KC’s appeal.
In Hanover Heights, the first suburb in the world to be installed with Google Fiber, the Kansas City Startup Village (#KCSV) was abuzz with activity.
“We came down here just for the energy,” said Stuart Ludlow, co founder of RFP365, a web platform that facilitates the ‘requests for proposals’ process.
Ludlow and co-founder Dave Hulsen were in another co-working space in KC, but they moved to the village to be close to other software developers.
“We can talk to 20 different companies in 15 minutes here, just walking around,” said Hulsen.
The village is a couple of blocks away from Google Fiber headquarters and now has around 11 houses supporting young entrepreneurs in various degrees. Free Internet, a workspace, and rent-free living is the standard. Space is also provided for meetings or communal events.
Toby Rush, CEO and founder of EyeVerify, is just around the corner from Hulsen and Ludlow. EyeVerify, a smartphone app that uses eye biometrics for identification, is generating a buzz, as it could eventually do away with passwords. Rush said the Startup Village was a great place to be, and mentioned one of his staff, a brilliant young student from India.
He had been accustomed to being brighter than everybody else, Rush said, but now he meets people that know more than he does.
David Compton from Lantern Software believes the community is important beyond just technical or professional exchanges and described a recent communal barbecue.
“People who had never met each other before started to interact,” he said, “I think that is going to be another part of the community that is going to be critical for sure.”
For nuclear plant maintenance worker, Chris Baran, KC’s community atmosphere was a clincher. Co founder of Travelingnuker.com, a website designed for other nuclear maintenance workers, Baran visited KC from the Northeast, staying initially in a room in one of the village’s “Hacker Homes.” He is now availing himself of the free accommodation at a Hacker Home after moving his whole enterprise to KC.
“I met 50 people on the first day,” he said. ”You can’t do that anywhere else.”