The Silicon Prairie: Entrepreneurship and the Arts in Kansas City


January 16, 2018 | Main Spotlight | The Silicon Prairie: Entrepreneurship and the Arts in Kansas City | By Missouri Main Street Connection |

Photo Credit: David Arbogast

Photo Credit: David Arbogast

Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas, are neighbors separated by a river but connected by a shared vision to create what some are calling the “Silicon Prairie” in the heart of the country. Kansas City has a long history of entrepreneurial spirit from cement tycoon and mob-boss Tom Pendergast, to more noteworthy entrepreneurs like Henry and Richard Bloch of H.R. Block, to the Dubinsky Brothers who purchased their first theater in downtown and started AMC Theaters.

The spirit of attracting, promoting and retaining those wanting to start new businesses in the Kansas City region has flourished in the past decade with many initiatives and organizations providing that support. The Office of the Mayor for the City of Kansas City, Missouri, created a website that lists over 13 organizations supporting the surge in startups, providing resources, connection points, capital, and formats helping make the city a hub for entrepreneurs and investors. Both mayors even created a fun video on the history of entrepreneurship in Kansas City.

One of Kansas City’s leading resource organizations located is The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which has played a critical role in the development of the city’s entrepreneurial roots, ensuring that the city stresses the importance of job creation and innovative practices. As one of the largest foundations in the United States, the Kauffman Foundation was the first of its kind to focus solely on how to support and encourage entrepreneurs. Its programs and efforts focus in four key areas: Entrepreneurship, Advancing Innovation, Education, and Research and Policy. One of their nationwide efforts was the creation of 1 Million Cups (1MC), a simple initiative to engage entrepreneurs in communities around the world. Each week, 1MC offers two local entrepreneurs an opportunity to present their startups to a diverse audience of mentors, advisors and entrepreneurs. Presenters prepare a six-minute educational presentation and engage in 20 minutes of feedback and questioning after they present.

KCSV Google House; Credit: KCSV

KCSV Google House | Photo Credit: KCSV

Kansas City Startup Village
(KCSV), a neighborhood of Craftsman-style homes straddling the state line between Kansas and Missouri, started as hacker homes and has grown into an entrepreneurial community taking advantage of Google Fiber’s super high-speed internet access. Kansas City was the first Google Fiber city in the country offering 100 times faster internet than the rest of the country. KCSV now hosts events for entrepreneurs, assists in finding startup capital and provides support for new startup companies and their creators. View an interactive timeline of their journey from 2012 to today.

So why does entrepreneurship matter? According to, these are a few of the reasons:

  • It’s needed. Young firms (0-5 years) create jobs with net employment growth of 8.6 percent. Older and larger firms shed more jobs than they create.1
  • It works. Economic gardening—a focus on “growing your own” businesses in your region—resulted in 71 percent increase in employment in Littleton, Colorado, since 1989 while providing no incentives or tax breaks to recruit or attract outside business to the city.

Entrepreneurs and the jobs they create are a vital and critical ingredient for a growing economy and providing shared economic prosperity, opportunity and empowerment. Kansas City consistently tops the ratings for entrepreneurial growth and has made many lists in the past. In 2016, Kansas City topped these charts, among many others:

Arts and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand in many cities and Kansas City is no different. Kansas City embraces the arts with three acclaimed art museums, 65 performing arts groups, an excellent performing arts center, a distinguished four-year college of art and design, and the Crossroads Arts District.

First Friday; Photo Credit: Kim Golding

First Friday event. | Photo Credit: Kim Golding

Before it was called the Crossroads, the area was considered part of “Midtown” or sometimes just “the area between Downtown and Crown Center.” Today, the Crossroads Art District is more than just an intersection. The artists came first, followed by the restaurants and housing, transforming the area into a vibrant and diverse community that welcomes all walks of life and all forms of artistic expression. The district’s featured monthly event, First Fridays, draws thousands of people to over 100 creative and art-focused entities representing all disciplines.

The Kansas City Art Institute is “a studio between two showrooms” situated between two exceptional art galleries—a world-class encyclopedic museum and a renowned contemporary art museum—where students can experience the latest trends in contemporary art on one side of campus and study collections of Impressionist paintings or ancient Chinese sculptures on the other. Considered a makers’ school, the Institute offers exceptional resources for both a traditional and digital curriculum. Notable associations with the Institute include Walt Disney, Thomas Hart Benton, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Morris, and Nick Cave.

Nelson-Atkins Museum; Credit: VisitKC

Nelson-Atkins Museum | Photo Credit: VisitKC

Unlike most major museums, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art did not develop from existing collections of art. Established through the trust of two Kansas Citians—newspaper publisher William Rockhill Nelson and teacher Mary McAfee Atkins—the museum first opened on December 11, 1933. It was quickly able to build a strong and expansive collection that has continued to grow ever since, including a vibrant and widely-recognized Asian art collection. Highlights of the museum include a 22-acre sculpture park—named one of America’s “Top Ten Lawns with a View”—and a seven-studio classroom center offering a unique learning environment for children and adults.

Additionally, the city has had a long-standing public art ordinance mandating a minimal percentage of construction project budgets be set aside specifically for public art. The Art in the Loop Foundation is dedicated to engaging artists in the ongoing revitalization of Downtown Kansas City. The nonprofit organization also plays a proactive role in bringing further attention to Kansas City as a place where exciting and accomplished contemporary art is helping to define the city’s identity.

In contemporary society, entrepreneurship and public art, and the community participation that often accompanies it, contributes to the identity of a city. Public art offers visual appeal, pride, celebration, fun, and often represents the health and wealth of the city it inhabits. The Kansas City region is not finished in their quest to be the “Silicon Prairie.” The path is long and winding, but they are well on their way. Kansas City’s strong history of both entrepreneurship and public art demonstrates how these two industries truly do go hand-in-hand, making a more vibrant community.

Visit the 2018 Main Street Now Conference website for registration, hotel reservations, education sessions, mobile workshops, and events, as well as sponsorship and exhibitor opportunities. Discounted early bird rates are available through January 19!

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Missouri Main Street Connection is the 2018 Main Street Now Conference co-host. Learn more about their program at

1Sources: U.S. Census Bureau Business Dynamics Statistics; Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation