Venture for America fellows bringing diversity of thought to KC tech, investment firms
June 11, 2019
By Austin Barnes
Venture for America fellows are flocking to Kansas City, said Kate Loar.
“Venture For America’s initial Kansas City champions: the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Pepper, KCRise Fund, and Super Dispatch set the groundwork for growth in KC,” noted Loar, VFA director in St. Louis and Kansas City. “We’re excited to expand the local VFA cohort this year.”
VFA is a two-year fellowship program for recent graduates who want to work at a startup and create jobs in American cities.
In recent days, four fellows committed to joining teams at two tech companies — Bellwether and Idle Smart — and one investment firm, Five Elms Capital.
“These incoming 2019 fellows are skilled and equipped to be a positive force locally,” Feather said, noting the group has selected Kansas City as a community on the rise. “Having met these fellows, their backgrounds are incredible, and I am excited to see how the diversity of thought they bring will push KC to the next level.”
Adam Rukin, project manager at Pepper.IoT, graduated the VFA program in May.
“We wouldn’t have approached anybody [with] these backgrounds at this point,” explained Matt Moody, founder and CEO of Bellwethr — a company dedicated to simplifying machine learning processes.
Click here to find out where Bellwethr ranks on Startland’s list of Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2019.
“We decided the VFA program could really open the door to really help us grow, you know, some more diverse skill sets and possibly acquire talent that we wouldn’t otherwise,” he said.
Headed to Bellwethr from Stanford, Kevin McPherson is eager to join the Bellwethr team and settle into life as a 2019 VFA fellow living in the City of Fountains, he said.
“For me, [the attraction to KC is about] the cost of living and the possibility of making and contributing to the city my own in some unique way,” McPherson explained. “… I was told about SpraySeeMo, the mural artist’s annual painting of the city, and I thought this would be a perfect way of becoming enmeshed in KC culture while also continuing a passion of my own — art.”
A startup space rich in community support and the small town feel of Kansas City were additional draws for McPherson as he sifted through offers, he said.
“… There seems to be a lot of energy around making startups and entrepreneurship more equitable across racial lines: I felt this more in KC than I have in any other VFA city,” McPherson added.
Similarly, fellow Allie Wooden, soon-to-be director of operations at Idle Smart, shares McPherson’s excitement for the city, she said.
“KC is attractive for me because I have previously lived there for six years and also went to Pembroke Hill School for a few years,” she said. “ … KC has changed a lot since I last lived there and I’m very excited about experiencing it and possibly contributing to it.”
Attracting outside talent to the metro has long been a struggle noted Adam Arredondo, CEO of the Kansas City Startup Foundation.
“The recent burst of signings is a great indicator that KC can become a destination city for many more fellows. We’ve built a lot of momentum ourselves but infusing passionate young leaders into our startups and community will only take our efforts to new heights,” Arredondo said.
Supporting programs like VFA could serve as needed tinder for startups working to make Kansas City the most entrepreneurial community in America, he added.