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The ECJC convenes the Innovation Caucus

On Friday, April 20th the ECJC convened the first-ever meeting of the Innovation Caucus to discuss the current state of entrepreneurship in Kansas. The Innovation Caucus is a group of pro-entrepreneurial, forward-thinking legislators with an interest in supporting entrepreneurship in Kansas. The attendees of the inaugural meeting of the Innovation Caucus were (from left to right): Rep. Jason Probst (D- Hutchinson), Sen. Barbara Bollier (R- Mission Hills), Rep. Dave Baker (R-Council Grove), Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), Rep. Jerry Stogsdill (D-Prairie Village), Rep. Pam Curtis (D- Kansas City), and Rep. Shannon Francis (R-Liberal, not pictured). The Innovation Caucus will serve as a forum for pro-entrepreneurial legislators to discuss barriers to entrepreneurship in Kansas and possible policy solutions to these barriers.

The ECJC founded the Innovation Caucus as a part of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s Entrepreneur’s Policy Network.  As one of six organizations selected to form this network, the ECJC is working to identify barriers to entrepreneurship in Kansas and propose policy solutions. This public policy effort was developed in response to the Kauffman Foundation’s Zero Barriers Initiative to identify and remove policy barriers to entrepreneurship. The ECJC’s focus on policies impacting Kansas entrepreneurship aims to support and retain entrepreneurs in Kansas and ultimately make Kansas a leading state in entrepreneurship.

At the first Innovation Caucus meeting, the current state of entrepreneurship in Kansas was discussed at length. Nationwide, it has been well-described that new businesses drive job creation. This is true in Kansas as it is across the rest of the country. Kansas is particularly reliant on small businesses, as 52% of Kansans are employed by small businesses. This reliance of Kansans on small or new businesses is high in central and western Kansas with most counties registering more than 62% employment by small businesses. As new businesses and small businesses drive and maintain employment in Kansas, the importance of supporting entrepreneurship cannot be overstated. However, firm formation and startup density has been on a precipitous decline in Kansas and across the nation for decades. Of the small businesses that do form, their share of scale-ups (ability to grow and employ 50+ people by their 10th year of operation) has dropped from 2% to 1.6% since 1987, indicating that the businesses which do form have an increasingly difficult time growing and creating jobs. Without intervention, the declining state of entrepreneurship could continue and have long-lasting, negative reverberations on the economy.

Despite the relatively grim prognosis of entrepreneurship in Kansas, there are several factors in Kansas which suggest that bolstering the entrepreneurial ecosystem is possible with legislative support. Kansas is home to connected, highly motivated entrepreneurial support networks spanning across the state. The economic development community across Kansas is active and engaged. Communities across rural and urban areas alike are focusing on entrepreneurship initiatives and support structures such as incubators and training programs. Capital networks (such as the MidAmerica Angels investor network) are connected and active in injecting capital throughout the state. The economic development community is vibrant, effective, and hungry for additional support from the state and our legislation. The formation of the Innovation Caucus is just one of the initial steps that ECJC is taking to advocate for pro-entrepreneurial policies in the Kansas state legislature. If you’re interested in staying informed on the ECJC’s public policy initiative, sign up for our policy mailing list here.


The ECJC Supports HB 2767 Reinstating Enterprise Zones in Kansas

The Enterprise Center recently submitted testimony in support of HB 2767, a bill which would re-instate the Enterprise Zones program.  The Enterprise Zones program creates a tax credit incentive for investments in small businesses located in non-metropolitan areas. The ECJC believes that the reinstatement of Enterprise Zones will improve entrepreneurship in Kansas by supporting small business and creating new jobs in rural areas. Read our letter of testimony to the House Appropriations Committee here.

2018_03_19 ECJC Testimony HB2767


Mid-America Angels announces new Managing Director

Laura McCoolidge Classen, formerly of Nebraska Angels, will lead network to further growth

FAIRWAY, Kan. — (January 25, 2018) — The Mid-America Angels investment network (MAA) announced today that Laura McCoolidge Classen, formerly of Nebraska Angels, has joined as the group’s new Managing Director. The role was previously held for over a decade by Rick Vaughn, the group’s founding Managing Director. Vaughn will continue his involvement in MAA on a part-time basis going forward.

“I enjoyed working with many colleagues in the Kansas City area during my time as Director of Nebraska Angels,” said Classen. “I look forward to strengthening those relationships in my new role and working closely with Rick to ensure our angel investors are well-served.”

Classen joins MAA after serving for five years as the Director of Nebraska Angels. During her tenure, the network invested over $13 million in early-stage companies and doubled in membership. Classen is also credited with founding the Midwest Angel Syndicate, a monthly forum for Midwest angel groups to improve deal flow.

“We are very fortunate to have Laura join MAA,” said Vaughn. “She brings a great base of experience and is very well-suited to lead our investment network’s continued growth. I look forward to helping her with that effort.”

Under Vaughn’s leadership, the MAA network grew from inception to over 165 members and has deployed over $26 million in private capital to aid in the growth of regional early stage companies. Vaughn has led the network through a number of successful exits including EyeVerify (now Zoloz), Zave Networks, Rush Tracking, Rhythm Engineering, and Aratana Therapeutics among others. Most recently, Vaughn oversaw the network’s  expansion to include three regional chapters in St. Joseph, Mo.; Topeka, Kan.; and Manhattan, Kan.

“Laura’s background provides both the experience and the knowledge required to lead the angel network into a new period of expansion and her engaging personality is a perfect fit to facilitate membership growth,” said George Hansen, the Executive Director of MAA and the President and CEO of the Enterprise Center in Johnson County (ECJC). “We’re equally fortunate to have Rick’s continued participation for the foreseeable future. His knowledge and capability are extraordinary and over the course of his career with MAA and ECJC, he has proven an extremely valuable asset to our regional entrepreneurial community.”

About the Mid-America Angels

Mid-America Angels, LLC is an angel investment network focused on early-stage companies in the Kansas and Missouri region. Since its inception in 2006, the angel group has made over 100 investments totaling more than $26 million. Individuals interested in more information about becoming a member of MAA or applying to pitch can visit www.midamericaangels.com.

KC Entrepreneurship Community Secures Federal Award to Kick-Off $5 Million Pre-Seed Fund

Area organizations collaborated on bi-state economic development proposal to raise and run new, charitable source of early-stage capital


FAIRWAY, Kan. – (October 2, 2017) – The Enterprise Center in Johnson County (ECJC) announced today that it has secured the Economic Development Administration’s  (EDA) Seed Fund Support grant with the cooperation of a bi-state consortium of entrepreneurial and civic leaders. The group, which includes representatives of the ECJC, the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, KCSourceLink, the OneKCforWomen Alliance, the Kauffman Foundation, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and area investors, will use administrative funds provided by the grant to staff and raise a $5 million pre-seed fund.

“The seed capital crunch is one of the pervasive resource gaps limiting Kansas City’s entrepreneurial growth,” said Melissa Roberts, Vice President of Communications and Outreach at the Enterprise Center. “In launching this pre-seed fund and closing that gap, we are taking an important step towards our civic goal of becoming the most entrepreneurial city in America. The fact that this project has been undertaken by groups from both sides of the state line goes to show that our regional goals of spurring economic development, driving job creation and improving business dynamism are better served by building bridges than by border wars.”

A lack of pre-seed funding (defined as a round size of between $50,000 and $300,000) was identified as a key entrepreneurial resource gap by KCSourceLink’s 2015 WeCreate capital report. The new fund will seek to bridge that gap by taking a lead position in investments of up to $150,000, contingent on the procurement of 1:1 matching funds from co-investment partners. The program will also require that entrepreneurs receiving investments participate in educational and mentoring programs provided by the ECJC. The fund is expected to begin deploying capital in the first half of 2018.

The Region Innovation Strategies (RIS) Seed Fund Support grant is allocated annually by the EDA, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Another branch of the Regional Innovation Strategies program, the i6 innovation grant, helped create Kansas City’s Digital Sandbox program in 2014. The ECJC proposal was one of the 41 RIS awardees selected this year from amongst 217 applicants nationwide. Funding from the $150,000 federal grant will be earmarked to cover administrative expenses, and will not be used to capitalize the fund.

“The Trump Administration is committed to strengthening U.S. production and exports, which are essential to our nation’s economic growth,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “These projects will enable entrepreneurs in communities across the United states to start new businesses, manufacture innovative products, and export them throughout the world – increasing America’s global competitiveness.”

The ECJC will seek to raise $5 million to capitalize the fund over the coming months; the fund’s founding donor may receive naming rights and a seat on the investment committee in exchange for their early support. The fund’s charitable structure ensures that all donors will receive a charitable tax deduction for their donations to the fund. Rather than disbursing exit proceeds to investors, proceeds will be used to re-capitalize the fund, creating an evergreen source of pre-seed capital for the region. In addition to the short-term benefit of receiving a charitable tax deduction, prospective investors will see a long-term charitable and economic impact through improved dealflow, better educated early-stage entrepreneurs and a more vibrant economy in the metro area as a result of the fund’s activity.

About the Enterprise Center in Johnson County

The Enterprise Center in Johnson County is a non-profit organization, supported by funds from Johnson County, philanthropic partners and private donors that helps connect entrepreneurs to the resources they need to grow and scale early-stage businesses. In addition to offering affordable, flexible co-working space, the ECJC also offers a mentoring program, educational programs and connections to early-stage capital through the Mid-America Angels investment network. The ECJC estimates the regional economic impact of ECJC-assisted companies as $3.2 billion over the past ten years. For more information, visit www.ecjc.com.


Mid-America Angels invest in medical device startup Voxello

Voxello logo

Local angel investors inject $287,000 to help medical device startup grow, shortly prior to receiving news of FDA clearance

FAIRWAY, Kan. – (February 20, 2017) – The Mid-America Angels investment network (MAA) announced a $287,000 investment in Voxello, an Iowa-based medical device company. The company’s primary product, called the noddleTM, is a pioneering solution that detects voluntary gestures in hospitalized patients who would otherwise be unable to communicate. Today, the company also announced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 510(k) clearance of the noddleTM .

Read more

Mid-America Angel investor network and Women’s Capital Connection celebrate exit of portfolio company EyeVerify

Angel Investor Capital Investment Portfolio Company Award

Angel investor groups’ history of investment in EyeVerify and CEO Toby Rush pays off

Mid-America Angel investor network (MAA) portfolio company EyeVerify closed a nine-figure deal with Ant Financial, the payments affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding, Ltd. on Monday. This is Ant Financial’s first U.S. acquisition. Read more

Guest Post: When to Use a Texas Shoot-Out and Resolving Partner Deadlock

This guest post by Sheila Seck originally appeared on the Seck & Associates blog

Business partnerships are hard. What if you and your business partners couldn’t get along? Or, what if you and your business partners couldn’t agree on a major business decision resulting in deadlock? How do you move past such a roadblock? A company’s well written operating agreement or buy-sell agreement should address these concerns. One possible solution to these potential issues is the “shotgun clause”, also referred to as a deadlock provision or a “Texas shoot-out”. Read more

Could this opportunity be your big break? Apply to present at InvestMidwest

The 17th annual InvestMidwest is seeking applicants to present at the conference on March 23-24 in St. Louis. InvestMidwest continues to attract great investors to see presentations from the best high growth companies in the Midwest-companies that have presented at InvestMidwest have raised over $1 billion in funding and through acquisitions.

There are three industry tracks: life sciences, IT/general business and food/ag/bioenergy.  Attached is information on the application process for your reference and to apply visit www.investmidwestforum.com. Read more

5 things the world can learn from KC entrepreneurs


This post originally appeared in Startland News.

This week, entrepreneurship is king in Kansas City.

As we welcome the world to our burgeoning tech hub during Techweek, it’s tempting to think that Kansas City’s startup community is a new phenomenon. But in fact, the names of the city fathers (and mothers) — the Kauffmans, Kempers, Blochs and Helzbergs — that adorn almost every public space in town have entrepreneurial roots that run deep.

The UMKC Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, where the Enterprise Center will be holding our next Venture Lounge event, seeks to highlight this heritage. The Techweek schedule offered a tour of the facility, but if you haven’t yet had a chance to visit, here’s an accounting of the important values that entrepreneurs around the world can look to learn from Kansas City’s most successful entrepreneurs. Read more

Rick Vaughn: 7 roles your early stage board should be playing

entrepreneur coworking space

This post originally appeared on Silicon Prairie News.

I often get asked about the role of a board of directors by both entrepreneurs and angels. I believe good boards can significantly and positively impact the growth of an early stage company.

The responsibility for that growth falls not just on the CEO and management team but the board as well.  In addition, the board ensures accountability and transparency and helps establish appropriate procedures, set milestones and assess performance among other things. Read more