Internet Startups At KC Area’s Home for Hackers: Five Tales Of Hits And Misses

"There's a lot more happening in Kansas City than we thought. You have startups like EyeVerify, SquareOffs, Local Ruckus..."

From memory he rattled off about a half dozen ventures with which he collided during his 2014 stay.

One morning he and others from the startup Panacea, co-founded by Aswad and his older brother, gave a talk at the weekly 1 Million Cups gathering of techie types at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center. They said Panacea aimed to develop mobile apps that scan drug labels and protect consumers from buying fake pharmaceuticals.

Dozens who attended gushed encouragement.

"Great idea! You can really do this," they told Aswad. And now Panacea is working with the fifth-largest drug company in Bangladesh.

Hackers and their ilk often speak of "the three C's," said Matthew Marcus, a Startup Village co-founder who lives on the Missouri side of the neighborhood.

"Collisions, collaboration and connectedness," Marcus said. "The next person you encounter might be a new customer, a technical person, an investor.

"It's often a random thing. You've got to leave some of it to fate."

 

Mike Demarais: 'Kansas City investors are risk-averse'

Mike Demarais left the Boston area, birthplace of Facebook, when he was 20. Beantown boasted too many types like him, techies elbowing one another in pursuit of the next big thing.

Thinking he might stand out in Kansas City, he became the first tenant of the Home for Hackers. For a short time he slept on the floor and rested his head on a towel.

That was in the fall of 2012, when the rollout of ultrafast Google Fiber promised to give Kansas City a Web-based entrepreneurial momentum that Demarais hoped to ride.

At his laptop he punched codes for software that he and three partners were developing to help bring 3-D printing into the mainstream. Their idea was to make the build-it-yourself technology more accessible to households and small businesses.

Kids, even, might design their own toys.

"We were pretty early into that (3-D printing) concept -- maybe too early," Demarais said in a telephone interview from Boston, where he has returned. "We were building the software and that part we could do.

"But the hardware wasn't ready for the consumer market. It's still not ready."

Fortune did smile on his startup, called Handprint, in its early, heady days. The company in 2013 took top honors in the Brad Feld Fiber House Competition, sponsored by a Colorado software investor offering free shelter in a Startup Village house he owned kitty-corner from the Home for Hackers.

Demarais' three Boston partners joined him in Kansas City and lived rent-free for a year.

But having had no luck securing the financing for their idea, they have since dispersed.

The city proved lacking in venture capitalists, Demarais said. The investor class here talks the trendy talk of backing high-tech bets, but "there's not enough of them willing to pull the trigger," he said. "Kansas City investors are risk-averse."

Now working for a Boston-based startup, Demarais said he misses the download speeds of Google Fiber. "I'd come back there in a heartbeat" if his own ideas drew sufficient venture capital.

"I'd probably buy a place in the West Bottoms," he said, "and commute to the coasts."

 

Brandon Schatz: 'An idea alone is ... like 1 percent' He so wanted the Web address SportsPhotos.com for his business, Brandon Schatz sold his car and bought the URL from a photographer who owned the rights.

In an upstart galaxy cluttered with wacky company names -- the sensible ones are all taken -- Schatz chose a moniker direct and simple.

But SportsPhotos.com is no simple endeavor. Schatz, 33, contracts with hundreds of photographers across the country to shoot images of amateur sporting events. The pictures are uploaded to the website to be shared for free with the participating athletes and their families.

He moved the operation from his home in Springfield, Mo., to take advantage of high-speed Internet in and around the Home for Hackers. He now can upload hundreds of photos in a fraction of the time it once took.

Event sponsors put up the money and SportsPhotos.com slaps their logos onto the pictures online. Extra revenue is made by customers ordering print photographs, in which the sponsors' names are removed.

Good idea? Maybe. But Schatz contends ideas are overrated.

"An idea alone is (expletive). It's like 1 percent of what makes a successful startup," he said. "The rest is all about execution, marketing, having the right equipment, making the right connections."

A frequent lodger at the Hacker House, Schatz now lives in the home across the alley. He is renovating rooms to serve as Airbnb overnight sites.

"What Brandon has done since coming here is impressive," said Startup Village organizer Adam Arredondo. "He's made a ton of progress."

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