Growing Missouri Startups: SparkLabKC Sees Graduates Blossoming

SparkLabKC founder Kevin Fryer speaks at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. |Courtesy of Max Wagner/SparkLabKC

SparkLabKC founder Kevin Fryer speaks at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. |Courtesy of Max Wagner/SparkLabKC

Kevin Fryer and his business partners presumed that Google’s decision to make Kansas City the nation’s first test market for Google Fiber, the company’s ultra-fast broadband service, would provide opportunities for new Internet technology businesses.

“So we kept brainstorming and brainstorming, and we couldn’t decide on anything for Google,” Fryer said. “So we decided to do a business accelerator instead.”

That was three years ago, Fryer explained, at a time when Techstars, Y Combinator and other technology business accelerators were already spawning highly successful ventures. Fryer and his co-founders interviewed the operators of eight accelerators from around the country to determine best practices and picked their brains about lessons learned.

The resulting accelerator, SparkLabKC, now has 36 angel investors and about 100 mentors, along with 16 corporate or university partners or sponsors.

On April 21, SparkLabKC’s second class of 10 startups completed the 90-day program, and half of the graduating companies have received additional seed funding or are already generating revenue.

“It’s our job to help these companies become successful because, if we don’t help them become successful, we don’t make a dime,” Fryer said of his accelerator, which gets a 6 percent equity stake in the participating companies. “It is a community effort. People have to be transparent and willing to help or it wouldn’t work. These hundred mentors that volunteer their time, they don’t gain anything out of this other than giving back. So it takes a lot of effort to get these startups up and running.”

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