Grants for Tech Startups

Grants for Tech Startups

In this episode of Startup Hustle, we’re talking about grants for tech startups. Lauren Conaway shares the mic with Becca Castro, the strategic initiatives manager of the Economic Development Corporation of KC (EDCKC). The duo maps out the programs in Kansas City that support entrepreneurs through mentorship and funding.

Covered In This Episode

Your entrepreneurial dreams can come true in Kansas City, MO. EDCKC sees to it that founders get enough support to launch and scale their business.

How does EDCKC do it? What are the programs that prospecting KC startups can take advantage of? Lauren and Becca talk about all these and more in detail.

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Learn more about EDCKC and its initiatives, including LaunchKC‘s grants for tech startups. Tune in to this Startup Hustle episode now.

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Highlights

  • Becca Castro and her professional journey (02:26)
  • LaunchKC and their work for the community (04:55)
  • On providing work in Kansas City (06:33)
  • Programs that help support entrepreneurship (08:07)
  • About Social Venture Studio (09:42)
  • Becoming part of the Social Venture Studio program (13:43)
  • All about the grants competition (16:03)
  • How do they get startups funded? (19:23)
  • Different programs and initiatives that EDCKC is working with (22:36)
  • What does a strong partner for EDCKC look like? (26:37)
  • Exciting news for LaunchKC (29:55)
  • An ideal candidate for the grants competition (32:13)
  • The grant application process (35:02)
  • What makes Becca excited when working with entrepreneurs? (37:31)

Key Quotes

In Kansas City, we have this very unique landscape. We have a very strong entrepreneurial ecosystem. A very intentional entrepreneurial ecosystem.

– Lauren Conaway

I think the core mission is really about growing Kansas City, Missouri. So there are a couple different ways that we do that. We really work on land development. So helping developers build buildings to grow the city. And then we work with businesses to really make sure that they’re happy, healthy, growing. And if there are any barriers in their way, our business development officers work to help remove those barriers or connect them with people who can.

– Becca Castro

We’re really trying to grow our grants competition. Yeah. And one of the ways that we’re focusing on is creating that stickiness factor to Kansas City. So you have a reason to be here that makes sense for your business. But you’re more likely to stay if you love the city.

– Becca Castro
Tips for Business Growth from Startup Hustle

Rough Transcript

The following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode.

Lauren Conaway 00:02
And we are back. Thank you for joining us for yet another episode of the Startup Hustle podcast. I’m your host, Lauren Conaway, founder and CEO of InnovateHER KC. And I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about today’s episode sponsor. The Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, Missouri, is proud to support the dreamers and doers in our great city through a variety of programs, including LaunchKC and KC Up. We’re going to be hearing more about those in this episode. If you are in and around the Kansas City area, learn how they can help you launch by visiting EDCKC.com. Now, let us get to the important stuff. Friends, I am extremely excited to have you with us today Becca Castro. Becca is the strategic initiatives manager. I always have to, like, take a breath for that one. Strategic initiatives manager for the Economic Development Corporation of KC. Becca is new to the role, and so we’re gonna have some fun over the course of the next 40-45 minutes or so getting to know each other. And we’re gonna get to hear about the work that Becca does with EDCKC. Thanks so much for joining us, Becca.

Becca Castro 01:11
Thanks for having me.

Lauren Conaway 01:12
Absolutely. I’m actually really excited. You’re one of those folks that I keep on seeing and hearing even in your short time with EDC. I’ve seen you around. I’ve seen you at events. And I’ve seen you, you know, on email threads and things like that. So I’m really excited to get to pick your brain a little bit.

Becca Castro 01:30
Yeah, likewise. Yeah, like you’re all over and doing exciting things.

Lauren Conaway 01:34
So it’s true. I do drive a lot. I feel like I spend like 90% of my life looking for parking. That’s like my life. But let’s talk about your life. And so I’m going to ask you, I’m going to dive right in, Becca. And I’m going to say, tell us about your journey.

Becca Castro 01:47
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s kind of a windy road that led me to economic development. My background is in education, curriculum design, and organizational development. And so I’ve worked in the classroom, taught fourth grade, taught higher education. They also worked with government organizations doing training for the military. And just oh, yeah, I did a lot of Army, Air Force Coast Guard training, which is kind of random. Yeah.

Lauren Conaway 02:19
Okay. Yeah, you’re cut? You’re a little bit all over the place. Yes, yeah.

Becca Castro 02:22
And then I really decided I wanted to focus on contributing to my community. So that’s Kansas City for me. And so, I got into nonprofit work here and was working on workforce development. And then that really got me interested in economic and economic development. That led me to EDC and really working on things that will feed the economic development pipeline in the mid- to long-term in my current role.

Lauren Conaway 02:50
Well, it sounds like you have a lot of varied experiences in your history. You were in academia. You were in education. And then you were, you know, working in the nonprofit world. So tell me this, do you feel like your path up to this point has kind of prepared you for the work that you’re doing now?

Becca Castro 03:07
Absolutely. I mean, it’s funny because I think when you’re sitting down to work on your resume, or, you know, to talk to someone about your background, you don’t really realize how all the experiences have led you to where you are, yeah, but in the day to day work I’m doing with the Economic Development Corporation, I do see, like, you know, designing a program that’s really similar to curriculum design and working with entrepreneurs, you know, to grow and grow their businesses. That’s very similar to what I did with the government. And so, yeah, definitely, yeah, I never could have charted the path and said, this is how it’s all gonna come together.

Lauren Conaway 03:44
I don’t feel like anybody really could like I don’t really know people who are too psychic, but I love it when people’s paths kind of take them down windy, twisty turns avenues as yours has because I find those your super interesting backup. Oh, thank you. Well, so let’s drill down on that, though, you know, the Economic Development Council, they’re a little bit like you embed organizationally you do a lot. So talk to us about that.

Becca Castro 04:13
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think the core mission is really about growing Kansas City, Missouri. And so there are a couple different ways that we do that. We really work on land development. So helping developers build buildings, yeah, to grow the city. And then we work with businesses to really make sure that they’re happy, healthy, growing, and if there are any barriers in their way, our business development officers work to, you know, help remove those barriers or connect them with people who can. And then our department has strategic initiatives. So like I said, really looking at those mid to long-term ways that will help the city prosper. And so, entrepreneurship is one of our big ones. So we really focus on growing those businesses. That will be our next Cerner or Garmin. That will, in turn, you’re gonna find those unicorns for sure.

Lauren Conaway 05:03
Exactly. That is that as well, and not just find them but support and help them grow and facilitate that path, I guess. Absolutely. Recently the EDC had a pretty big win. And I think it bears mentioning, but everybody in Kansas City got really, really excited about that metadata center that they’re putting in here. It’s supposed to provide hundreds of jobs. You know, of course, it’s always a feather in a city’s cap when you attract one of the fangs. So definitely excited about that. Can you talk to us a little bit about what that looked like from the EDC perspective? I know it was a joint. It was a joint effort. But was your team just super excited to be able to bring something of that kind of notoriety here to Kansas City?

Becca Castro 05:53
Yes, yes, it’s a big win. And I think if you look at just those opportunities that we have to get on the national stage and get some national attention, those are always great, whether it’s attracting people, you know, that kind of see Kansas city on the map, and maybe they move here and start working remotely from here or, you know, just really getting that. That attention. Yeah.

Lauren Conaway 06:16
Well, I know that there are a lot. There are so many people it feels like it’s really Kansas City’s year because, yeah, the World Cup. Yeah. And we had the, you know, that big meta announcement, and we’ve had a few other really cool things kinds of announced by Panasonic.

Becca Castro 06:29
Well, I guess, really Kansas side, but I mean, we’re really region, honestly.

Lauren Conaway 06:34
So for those of you who don’t know, Kansas City we have this weird geographic distinction of spanning two states. And so Kansas City, there’s Kansas City, Missouri, and there’s Kansas City, Kansas, and right next to each other, but there is a little bit of a divide, I would say, you know, I think that we all kind of get along well, but there’s a little bit of competition. And so it’s a big, big coup for KC, MO, to get that metadata center. And I don’t know, it’s just interesting politics. But beyond the politics, you know that that was a big ticket thing that was very sexy in the news, like, let’s talk about Facebook and metta coming to Kansas City. But now, let’s talk about that entrepreneurship piece. So the EDCKC has programs in place to support entrepreneurship. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about those?

Becca Castro 07:27
Sure, sure. So our program is LaunchKC. And under the LaunchKC umbrella, we really have two functions. So one is the grants competition that awards $50,000 grants to entrepreneurs that have tech-enabled solutions and high growth potential. And then we have accelerators. And so these are accelerators that are industry specific, where we partner with different companies in town to further that development of tech. So we’ve had insurance tech, financial tech, and health tech. Right now, we’re running our Social Venture Studio, which is our accelerator for 2022, which is really exciting. And we do all this in partnership with the Downtown Council. Yeah, so watch KC’s run by EDC and downtown Council.

Lauren Conaway 08:15
That is awesome. So talk to us a little bit more. Well, actually, I know that we need to talk about LaunchKC because LaunchKC has a bunch of really exciting things going on right now. But first, I want to take a little dip. And I want to talk about Social Venture Studios. Sure. Yes. And it is the first year.

Becca Castro 08:32
Yep. And it’s under the LaunchKC umbrella. And we, in addition to the downtown Council, are partnering with the Keystone innovation district for that. And so they’re really providing the space and the programming. Yeah. And so, the Social Venture Studio is an opportunity to really look at social ventures in Kansas City, Missouri. So these could be nonprofit or for-profit companies that really have in their mission to solve some sort of social, environmental, or racial issue affecting Kansas City in the nation. And so we have. I think it’s seven companies going through that right now. They will graduate in early October. And it’s just really inspiring. I mean, if you’re in the Kansas City area, you should come on October 6 to hear their pitches. I sat through the pitch practice a couple weeks ago, and even though I know all their stories were still just reinspired, it’s kind of mind-blowing, isn’t it? It really, it’s super exciting, because it’s really an opportunity, like I said, to solve a problem. And the reason they got into these or started these companies is so personal, and yet it’s also a way to make, you know, good money. Yeah. Just kind of checks all the boxes.

Lauren Conaway 09:45
Well, and you know, this is me being total. This is a very selfish thing to say. But I do just have to say that in the first cohort through the Social Venture Studio, we’ve got a couple of innovators in there. We’ve gotten into Ayesha Curry with epic. They do the grooming project, which is a workforce development program but also a for-profit business around grooming. We’ve got the prospect case see run by Shanita McAfee MC Brian. She’s one of our members and one of my buddies, but they actually address local food security. They do a lot to address food insecurity. And they also do a component to their business that focuses on workforce development, training the community around, and food service careers. And then, of course, we’ve got Dr. Shelley Cooper with the sure show. Yeah, so it’s always when I saw the cohort get announced. I got super excited because it was like an innovator. These are awesome women who, as women, do kick-ass things. So I don’t know who was on your selection committee, but I have to tip my hat and give many, many claps. They did an amazing job. Were you on the selection committee? Can you say it was not on the selection?

Becca Castro 10:58
Okay, it wasn’t that I wasn’t at EDC yet. But it was a really good group. And really, a lot of them were the ones that kind of came up with Social Venture Studios as a concept. So they’re very passionate about it and excited about picking a really great concept.

Lauren Conaway 11:13
So yeah, well, and that’s so cool. And I think either, and this is something that you and I have actually briefly talked about before. But the fact is, like, a lot of these actually aren’t for-profit businesses. And the fact is you can, you can make money, you can be profitable, and you can still do good. And I think that that’s one of the things that Social Venture Studio are kinda highlighting for our community, like being able to build your business, like a viable, successful business on the cornerstone of community advocacy or community action. That is, it’s not just it’s not impossible. It is highly doable. And these are some entrepreneurs who are viewing the work that they do and the money that they make through a very community lens. And I just, I just love it. It’s very exciting.

Becca Castro 11:59
Yeah, it’s great. And, and I mean, you know, it’s exciting to be one of the first, if not the first in the nation, to really launch a studio or an accelerator that focuses on social ventures.

Lauren Conaway 12:11
So yeah, yeah. So so you’re kind of right now you’re, you’re leading, leading a charge? How does that feel?

Becca Castro 12:18
It’s really exciting. I mean, just to be in that space, and you know, there’s so much interest in the community, in terms of funding, it really makes it easy to, Yeah, to do the fundraising part of that. And because people are just really excited about that.

Lauren Conaway 12:33
Yeah. Well, let’s talk about let’s talk about outcomes, you know, Social Venture Studio, you are taking these businesses, these seven businesses through mentorship and championship and like all of these really, really fantastic things, you’re hopefully going to put a little bit of money in their pockets at the culmination of the program. But what are you hoping to see from the graduating cohort as you leave their cycle?

Becca Castro 13:03
Well, I mean, we gave them some grant money in the beginning, I believe it was $35,000 each. And then, like you said, they’ve been going through this programming. And so at the end, at the pitch day, they will be able to pitch to not only community stakeholders, but also potential funders. So I think for them, they’re all really looking for that little bit of money to help get them through. And I think what we’ve seen is, as they’ve gone through and really talk through their model, some of them have shifted, you know, maybe they were nonprofit, and now they’ve shifted into a for profit model. And so just seeing how they grow after we’ve helped them make these different tweaks to their models is gonna be really exciting.

Lauren Conaway 13:46
And where are you finding the experts and the mentors to work with them?

Becca Castro 13:50
That’s been exciting, too. So we have a partnership with the Keystone innovation district. And so Kevin McGinnis has really worked to provide some of the programming, but he’s really pulled in a really good group of ESL leaders, entrepreneurship, support organization leaders in the community. And so it’s a really diverse set of mentors and supporters that have been working with these companies throughout the cohort.

Lauren Conaway 14:15
Yeah, that is awesome. And are you planning? Are you planning on having a second cohort next? Yeah, I mean, I know there were these early days, but let’s know we just talked about it today a little bit and just confirmed that we were going to do that.

Becca Castro 14:22
And it’s just exciting to start to hear already in the community. Different people have approached us and been like, well, this is what I’m interested in. They’ve kind of asked, am I a fit for the grants competition? And we’re like, Well, no, but you are a great fit for the next cohort of social venture study. So already getting excited, getting excited about who we’re gonna see in the second cohort.

Lauren Conaway 14:51
That man I can’t wait. I like anytime you see an entrepreneur who has that kind of impact a lot. In this I just You love to see it. Now, you said something interesting. You talked about being a fit for a Social Venture Studio for LaunchKC. We’ve talked a little bit about Social Venture Studios. I keep wanting to shorten it, SBS? SBS. Yeah, I do. So SBS but let’s talk about LaunchKC.

Becca Castro 15:23
Yes, the grants competition. So we ran the grants competition from 2015 to 2018. Yeah. And then we kind of took a break and started looking at accelerators. And so now we’re thinking, why can’t we do both? Yeah, so we have SBS running. And so we’re bringing back our grants, competition. And applications are open. So if you’re listening, and you have a compelling reason to be in the Kansas City, Missouri area and grow your business, please apply. So we’ll be awarding six to eight companies with $50,000 in grant money, so non dilutive. And we’re really looking for companies that have a tech enabled solution, it could be a product or service, and are at that point where they’re ready to start growing. And they have, like I said, a compelling reason to be in Kansas City. And we will provide the grant dollars and space in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, for a year for a founder and 50% of their staff. And really, we want to create a community among those founders. So they’ll be able to interact with the other winners and will be providing programming mentorship, the real estate, yeah.

Lauren Conaway 16:39
And I think that one of the most compelling things about watching KC, because I’ve actually I don’t know if you know this, I’m gonna let you know, in a little fact that I have actually been to every LaunchKC grants competition event. Yeah, I’ve been around since you said you said 2015. And I’m like, I guess that sounds right. But I’ve been to all of those events. And one of the really cool things is I’m going to tell you a little story, if that’s okay. I remember being in the room when it was the first or the second, like in a very, very early LaunchKC competition night. And the MC was talking to the founders, and they had kind of all given their pitches and everything like that. And there were actually two announcements in that year that the founders were going to be not just, you know, they didn’t just come here to Kansas City, they were gonna be staying in Kansas City, because they had found that Kansas City was so friendly to startups and to entrepreneurs. And there were so many ESOPs entrepreneurial support organizations out there. And they fell in love with the city. And so not only are you developing our current workforce, but you’re hopefully attracting some more of those potential unicorns for Kansas City to kind of stake a claim in Right.

Becca Castro 17:57
Absolutely. And that’s really, you know, we’re really trying to grow our grants competition. Yeah. And so that is one of the ways that we’re focusing on is creating that stickiness factor to Kansas City. So you have a reason to be here that makes sense for your business. But you’re more likely to stay if you love the city. Right? So how do we help you fall in love with the city? Well, you know, we’re going to provide opportunities for founders to see the entertainment, the culture aspects, the historical aspects of the city that we love so much, and really get them connected in terms of a network. And so that includes the ESOP, that includes, you know, figuring out who to go to when it comes to real estate or marketing support. And so really just doing what we can to share our network, yeah. To help people who want to stay.

Lauren Conaway 18:43
Yeah, well, I know so many entrepreneurs, they talk about access to capital, you know, and it’s difficult, like every single founder that I have ever, ever talked to has mentioned that as a challenge or a stumbling, stumbling block. And so, so LaunchKC, you’re giving out money. If you don’t mind me asking, where does that money come from?

Becca Castro 19:02
Sure. We get generous donations from private foundations here in town, private companies, and we get funding from the state and funding from Missouri Technology Corporation, okay. They give us a generous donation, but I’m not gonna lie. I mean, fundraising is a challenge every year. So already, you know, we’re in the application phase of this grant competition, and we’re already funding for next year’s grant competition.

Lauren Conaway 19:33
And so you have your lives together so much more than I do. I’m like, oh, they’re fundraising for the cycle out what?

Becca Castro 19:41
Yes, it’s a challenge. But I think that’s the other thing we’re thinking about when we look at how to evolve this program, and really make it more sustainable. And so we’re thinking about different ways to create a funding source for entrepreneurs that is sustainable. Sure allows us to really support entrepreneurs in different ways.

Lauren Conaway 20:02
So, we’ll see. So talk to us about this actually, you know what, I’m going to tell you really quickly that if you want to learn more about the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, definitely check out the LaunchKC information you can find that at LaunchKC.org You can check out EDCKC.com. But check out this organization you know, even if you’re not in the Kansas City area, we want you to come and we want you to see what we’re all about. We’re a pretty cool city. I’m not from here. And I have fallen in love with Kansas City.

Becca Castro 20:33
I know that you love Kansas and quite honestly I’m not from here. Yeah.

Lauren Conaway 20:38
So let us like if you have these preconceptions in your mind about Kansas City, let us change them. You know, and I feel like that is what you’re doing with Launch. KC. It’s just so in line with what the EDCKC I think your tagline and correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I remember reading this somewhere, but your tagline is let’s grow KC, MO, is that?

Becca Castro 20:58
That’s EDCs tagline. Yeah, yeah.

Lauren Conaway 21:00
Well, and I love that, because you’re, you’re finding such creative ways to attack that problem. You know, and so much of it is based on that entrepreneurial innovation spirit. So, I love that. Thank you for that. But just know that EDCKC, you know, definitely check them out, you can learn more at EDCKC.com. They work with all kinds of businesses to locate and grow in, in our awesome city.

Becca Castro 21:27
Yes. And I think really quick, just a quick plug for something else. I don’t know a ton about it. But I know that we’re also offering micro-loans for small businesses. So these are the four I think of. I don’t know exactly how much it is but businesses that are under $75,000 in revenue. So these are like the smaller businesses, that wouldn’t be a fit, let’s say for the grants competition, but we do have an open window for those microloans. So go to the website and check that out.

Lauren Conaway 21:56
Yeah. If you had to estimate how many prongs do you think EDCKC is working with? I met economic economic development pieces, like how many different program initiatives?

Becca Castro 22:08
It’s a bunch, I feel like it’s Launch. Well, I just had in my I don’t have that much information, but I just had my 90 day review. And just in thinking, you know, I haven’t been there that long. And I feel like I have a really good handle on a lot of it. And even today, when we were talking, it’s like other things came up that I’m not even aware of. So there’s just so much that we do. We have a really strong land development business development team. And there’s just a lot of support there.

Lauren Conaway 22:32
Yeah. I love that. Well, and I have to say, and you know, I haven’t lived in that many cities. But Kansas City is not the only place I’ve lived. But I do know that like, I mean, I’ve been to National ecosystem development conferences, and like, I’ve benchmarked against other entrepreneurial sport organizations nationwide. In Kansas City, like we have this very unique landscape, we have a very strong entrepreneurial ecosystem, like a very intentional entrepreneurial ecosystem, because I feel like in other cities that I’ve been to, it’s like, yeah, we have entrepreneurial activity, but we don’t have a ton of structure around it, you know, these are just things that are happening. And if entrepreneurs happen to get together and support each other great, but here in KC, we have organizations like the EDC, KC and the Kauffman Foundation, and pipeline entrepreneurs, and like all of these really strong ESOPs that are designed to support one of the greatest economic drivers that any city has, I mean, entrepreneurship is the quickest, the often the most reliable way for an individual to create opportunities for generational wealth, right? We know this, the data shows it time and time again. And so having that strong entrepreneurial ecosystem in place is so key. And that’s why I love looking at organizations like EDC, KC, like, this is what they’re doing, you are here to help drive us forward to create equitable access to opportunity. You know, all of those beautiful things that help the city thrive. So really, I don’t even have a question there. I just really want to say thank you.

Becca Castro 24:14
You’re welcome. And also, I mean, I think I, you know, I was in workforce development before I started this job. And so I hadn’t realized that, or I hadn’t really thought of entrepreneurs or companies in those first few years of their existence as being large sources of job creation. But really, if you look at the data that Kaufman’s put out recently in Mid America Regional Council, they are the biggest source of job creation companies in their first three years and so just that title workforce development and you know, supporting entrepreneurs really helps to support other Kansas Citians and right getting great job so well.

Lauren Conaway 24:51
I mean, think about it, like if you have small businesses and startups flourishing, you know, they’re added to the top Essbase, absolutely their schools get more money in the city governments get more money. And like, I mean, it’s just, it’s, it’s one of those very clear situations where a rising tide lifts all boats.

Becca Castro 25:10
Absolutely. And that’s really where we’re coming from. I mean, they are an Economic Development Corporation. So we’re really looking at finding those next big drivers of the economy. Yeah.

Lauren Conaway 25:21
Well, and I’m gonna give you a little bit of an opportunity to brag right now, but I’m going to ask you, you know, one of the things that I’ve really, really noticed about the EDC, KC is how, how tactical and strategic you are, but also how successful you are as an organization and finding those strong partnerships. You mentioned the Downtown Council. And I know that there are many, many different entities and, you know, governance parties that you’ve partnered with. So talk to us about what a strong partner for the EDCKC looks like?

Becca Castro 25:57
Well, gosh, I mean, so just even with Launch, KC, and what we’re working on there, we have such a strong partnership with the Downtown Council. And so it’s everything from working together with their staff to, you know, design the judging process, and, you know, scout out companies and, you know, we’re meeting with them, you know, weekly. And so that’s, you know, one of our best partnerships for LaunchKC, and then Keystone. I mean, that’s just another really strong partnership. And I think when different entities within Kansas City all have that goal of making Kansas City a more prosperous city, it’s really easy, because we’re all kind of rowing in the same direction. And so looking at this initial initiative, like Launch KC, it just becomes very easy to work together to make it the best we can be. But EDC also works with KC ADC. So the Kansas City Area Development Council, we speak in acronyms. So sometimes I forget what it stands for. Yeah, same. Yeah, definitely, like in the land development, business development. They’re working with KC ADC, as they try to attract businesses and then etc, will kind of take over to support them once they’re here. And so there’s a lot of really strong partnerships in the city.

Lauren Conaway 27:12
Yeah, we had Jessica Nelson Calm, I think it’s hyphenated. I can’t remember which order. But she was actually on the show not too long ago. And she talks about how The KCDC they’re basically the marketing company for Kansas City as a whole, which I, which I love, but like I, I think that it’s really, really important to know that Kansas City, we’re very fortunate to have so many of these entities, not just it’s not just that you exist, it’s that, you know, the EDCKC KC EDC, Mark, like all of these agencies and entities, you’re also in it to win it and so collaborative, and you’re, you’re willing to try new things. I mean, even like looking at Launch, the LaunchKC, you know, that that was an experiment, you know, that I think, and I actually remember, like, right around the time it started all the DSOs were like, Hey, there’s a saying they’re gonna be having a competition, they’re gonna be given out money. But you were like, Yeah, let’s try it. And then found that, you know, the pandemic notwithstanding, that launched KC, the grant competition was very successful. As far as I know, you’re right.

Becca Castro 28:19
And we have so many supporters, because when I started in my position, I just had a flood of emails, like, Oh, let me introduce you to these people, you know, KCSourcelink. And then they introduced me to a bunch of different people and so you talk about that entrepreneurial ecosystem, and you know, how supportive it is even just in getting me connected and asking how they can support lunch, KC, and, you know, everybody’s putting it out on their social media. And, you know, so it’s just, it’s, it’s really exciting. It hasn’t been my experience in every other endeavor I’ve been in. Yeah. And so this is really nice to be a part of that.

Lauren Conaway 28:54
It must be a nice change of pace for me. I’m very glad to hear that because the other I was like, otherwise, she’s gonna make me a liar, because I just said all these nice things, but I’m glad to hear good. What are you most looking forward to over the next few months, as you know, applications for LaunchKC, come to a close and remind us of the date again.

Becca Castro 29:15
September 15, September 15, get your application number then.

Lauren Conaway 29:19
Yes, and we would love to see many, many applications for many, many innovative, disruptive, amazing companies. We want to bring some really cool founders to Kansas City to show up. We really want to show off a little bit, and I don’t even feel bad about that.

Becca Castro 29:33
No, no, not at all. Gosh, I’m excited. Well, I will say like, one little when, like, since I’ve just started the selection committee that we formed. So the people that are gonna be reviewing the applications and interviewing the founders to decide, you know, who was going to receive this funding, like it’s such a diverse group of people and they bring a lot of experience and expertise and so I’m really excited about that.

Lauren Conaway 30:02
I vaguely remember sending it to an email being like, yeah, sure, no problem.

Becca Castro 30:05
Yeah, well, and that’s another I mean, it’s a testament to LaunchKC. I mean, I’m not necessarily tooting my own horn. But before I go, What a great reputation the organization has, because I think I only got like two people out of 40. That said, they couldn’t do it, and everybody else was like, I’d be honored. I’m so awesome. So we have a really good group. So that’s exciting to get to work with that group and pick some great grant winners. But the other piece is the programming. Yeah. So January through December, we’re really working with entrepreneurs. And I’m really excited because my background is in adult learning. And so I feel like I can bring something to this program. And what I really want to do is sit down with founders and talk about, like, what do you want to achieve during this year? And what goals do you have? And how can we help you get there? Because EDC has great connections. And we have great programming partners and Keystone. And so how can we kind of curate a program for each founder that will help them at the end of the year to be able to say, this is how I grew?

Lauren Conaway 31:03
Right? Well, because the founders, they tend to be very different. They’re coming from very different industries, they’re coming from very different backgrounds, they have different teams.

Becca Castro 31:10
And they’re at a different point in their growth.

Lauren Conaway 31:14
So you kind of have to actually, that’s I think that’s where I want to go next. I just surprised myself, because I had a whole direction in my head. But actually, I want to say what are you looking for in applicants for the Launch? KC grants competition, like what is the ideal candidate gonna look like?

Becca Castro 31:33
I mean, I think like, we talked about the, you know, tech-enabled product, or, or service. And we want them to be kind of at that point, their pre-seed seed stage, yeah, under a million and revenue. But we really want them to have a compelling reason to be in Kansas City. So whether your clients are here, or, you know, there’s industry partners, that would work well for you. And then the other thing that we really want is founders who are really thinking about that diversity and equity inclusion piece. So whether that shows up in the team they’ve formed, or their policies, or even the way they design their product, right, we just want them to be thinking about that. And we’ll support them in that, you know, through the program year, but that’s what’s really going to have founders be set apart from others is.

Lauren Conaway 32:22
And why is that important to EDCKC?

Becca Castro 32:26
Well, ultimately, I mean, we’ve talked about workforce development and jobs. These are jobs that create job creators. And so we want to create or help support organizations that are going to be good places for Kansas City and still work, right? And so if founders are already thinking about that, in the beginning, when they’re just formulating, they’re going to be a better company to work for sure.

Lauren Conaway 32:46
No, I love that. And I think what’s really important, like most of these organizations, they’re that they might be in the scaling stage, but they’re not going to be kind of in that end stage exit stage. Kind of thing. So I love that you are applying that lens and kind of setting that expectation around the companies that you’re going to work with because they’re going to be fairly early on in there. What’s the word? I’m looking for their trajectory there. And so that when we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, that’s one of those things that kind of has to be baked in, it’s not something that you can just one day wake up and be like, Okay, well, we care about diversity. Now. You know, it has to really be built in foundationally at all levels of your organization in order for it to really work and to be really beneficial, or for your employees, your team, your, your business. And so the fact that you’re kind of getting to some of these founders early and saying like, Hey, this is something, but it’s important to us that you prioritize this. That’s super cool.

Becca Castro 33:49
Yeah, I’m excited. I’m excited about reading their answers too. Yeah.

Lauren Conaway 33:55
Full disclosure, I’m excited to read their answers as well. No, I love that so much. So what are we looking at as far as the timeline? You know, we’ve got applications coming due. But then, you know, they’re gonna run through the program. What kind of timeline are you hoping to see with some of these companies? Can you drill down a little bit more on exactly what that will look like for these businesses?

Becca Castro 34:26
Well, so the tie in terms of timeline for like the applications close, September 15, and then we’ll have three rounds of judging. Yeah, so the first two rounds will be virtual. We’ll be looking at their applications. And then, if they move past that first round, they will submit a video pitch. And so, round two will be assessing those video pitches. And then Round three is, I think, where it gets really fun because we’ll get to interview them. And so they’ll come face to face for an interview. And part of that will be the pitch, and then part of it will just be questions from the selection committee. Yeah, and then. So that’s going to take place. Let’s see through late October and then early November, we will choose our winners. And we will announce them. We’re thinking right now about announcing them as global entrepreneurs.

Lauren Conaway 35:13
We are nice, which is in November, but yeah, exactly. It’s escaped me.

Becca Castro 35:17
I think it’s the 14th through the seven tiers you go, that’s right. Pick the exact date, but during that week, and then founders will need to be in Kansas City, January, I think it’s six. And so that’s when the program really starts. So January 6, through December of 2023. They’ll be working with us and have their space in downtown Kansas City. That is awesome. I love it, and we’re going to conclude with an event which, you know, we haven’t exactly set a date for. But really, an opportunity to present these companies and their growth to the community gives them an opportunity to pitch well and to announce that they’re staying here in Kansas City.

Lauren Conaway 35:54
Oh, that was actually yes. Stories. Because I just remember being like so, so thrilled, I think I want to say it was like maybe Lisa Mitchell, who was presenting at that point, but like we had two startup founders who had gone through the program, just stand up and be like, Yeah, we’re gonna stay in Kansas City, and everybody got all excited. Really? Yeah.

Becca Castro 36:16
I think 61%. Okay, so let’s see, let me get into the numbers here. For the grant side, we’ve awarded 38 grants, 33 are still thriving businesses, and 61% are still in Kansas City. So I think that that’s pretty good. And then numbers well done. Yeah. Not bad. And then, you know, in expanding the program and really providing a focus on that stickiness factor. I think that, yeah, that will only go up.

Lauren Conaway 36:43
So that’s amazing. What are you looking forward to most over the course of the coming months?

Becca Castro 36:51
Yeah, getting to know the founders. I mean, I’ve spent a lot of time designing the different components. And so now getting to interact with them, I’ve started to like, you know, I’ve had coffee with a few. And so just really understanding what they’re going through and what their needs are, I think is great. I’ve spent the first part of my job so far really talking to ESOPs. And, and, you know, you get that perspective, but then when you talk to founders, you know, just kind of adds to that. And so I really enjoy, you know, working with them one on one and kind of understanding what their needs are.

Lauren Conaway 37:25
You’re so cool. Becca, I can’t. I can’t even stand how cool you are. I’m sorry, I’m so glad that we’ve had the opportunity to like to sit down with Tommy too because I don’t know. I’ve been looking forward to this for some time. So excuse my fangirling, friends. Well, I’m gonna ask you, I’m gonna go ahead and ask you the human question. Are you ready?

Becca Castro 37:45
I’m ready.

Lauren Conaway 37:46
Okay, sometimes people get stressed out about this. This is not intended to be a stressful thing. And I actually figured I would ask you a different question than the one that we talked about. And so I’m going to ask you, all right, when the LaunchKC program has come to its culmination, and you have some time to breathe, you’re going on vacation?

Becca Castro 38:08
Where are you going? Oh, my gosh, I love to travel. Okay, so where am I going? You will have earned it. So money is like, I mean, money is no object. What my husband and I have been talking about, we have not gone on vacation alone without the kids. And sometimes, like during COVID. We traveled a lot with the kids because it was just easy to hop in the car and go work from somewhere else. But we need an adult trip. And so we met in Europe, actually. And so that’s a hot story. Yeah.

Lauren Conaway 38:38
So we were studying. We’re studying abroad, and we met in the Netherlands.

Becca Castro 38:42
Okay.

Lauren Conaway 38:43
And so he actually is a Missouri boy, just coincidentally.

Becca Castro 38:47
Oh, that’s a fairy there.

Lauren Conaway 38:48
I don’t even know if that’s a coincidence. But continue. Yeah. So we met in the Netherlands. And so we really want to go back. We want to go back to where we studied in Maastricht. And I would love to just spend time kind of traveling around. I haven’t been to Italy.

Becca Castro 39:01
I really want that for you.

Lauren Conaway 39:03
And by that time, you’re gonna be very tired. And you will deserve it.

Becca Castro 39:08
Yes, I, yeah, I need to set that as my goal.

Lauren Conaway 39:12
Yeah, I feel like that would be a lofty but very good goal to have. And speaking of good goals, good organizations, and people that we adore. Once again, today’s episode of Startup Hustle was sponsored by the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, Missouri. Becca is a fun representative doing an amazing job and making some waves in your initial months. And I know that that’s something that I’ve noticed. But if you are in the Kansas City area, even if you’re not in the Kansas City area, check out what EDCKC.com can do for you. I just said EDCKC.com. Like that’s the name of the company. EDCKC can do for you. You can check out EDCKC.com. Definitely want to connect with these community leaders. They are making a huge difference in business and in life here in Kansas City. And they can definitely help you if you are interested in coming to the Kansas City area to take part in a Social Venture Studio or the LaunchKC grant competition. One more time, Becca, winter applications are due for LaunchKC.

Becca Castro 40:22
September 15 and go to LaunchKC.org.

Lauren Conaway 40:25
LaunchKC.org to apply. So definitely check it out and apply. I know some of the experts that they have brought in the past. And I just know that there are so many organizations, so many startups, and so many founders who have gotten help from the Economic Development Corporation of KC, MO. So thank you for that, Becca, and thank you for being on the show.

Becca Castro 40:45
Thanks for having me. It’s fun.

Lauren Conaway 40:46
Absolutely. She said it was fun. So for those of you who don’t know, that’s like one of my goals. I’m like, I want all of our guests to have a good time. But I also want you to have a good time. My friends, we are so very grateful that you come back to us week after week. Keep on listening. It is an honor and a privilege, and a pleasure to tell the stories, the real stories of entrepreneurship. We talk about the bullshit, we talk about the fun stuff, and we love to do that with you and for you. So definitely keep on coming back, and we will catch you on the flip side.

Sponsor Highlight

Are you a budding entrepreneur in and around Kansas City, MO? Check out the Economic Development Corporation of KCMO. The organization fuels the entrepreneurial spirit of dreamers and doers in the area through helpful programs, such as LaunchKC and KC Up. Be part of the growing business community in KC now!

Moreover, learn more about our Startup Hustle partners and their services.