Keynote Speaker, Marketing Technologist, Columnist, Futurist, Smart Ass

Innovation and Inspiration at Big Kansas City

There is a lot going on in Kansas City, these days. Google has launched it’s “Google Fiber” product and the entrepreneur community is buzzing with activity. It’s a hot bed for startups, and it’s being coined as “Silicon Prairie”. In 2008, Silicon Prairie News was founded to discuss the developments in the startup scene in the flyover states of Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. SPN, launched Big Omaha a couple years ago, and today was the inaugural Big Kansas City conference kickoff, where top innovators, startup founders and digital disrupters share their wisdom in an old school airplane hanger, that is now the Airline History Museum.

NOTE: Watch the Big Kansas City archive here.

Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint, started off the day by talking about how Kansas City has grown over the years via it’s solid infrastructure. The Missouri River, it’s railroads, it’s central location for airlines… but the infrastructure of the future is digital.

Sprint has been very innovative over time. In fact, Sprint had the first mobile phone with a camera phone and it was first national carrier to offer 4G. Speaking of innovation, Sprint was awarded business patents in 2012 at a rate of 2.5 patents per day.

One amusing quote by Dan Hesse, “There are 10 cellphones created every day… for each baby that is born.” That’s ridiculous!! Babies don’t even need phones! [joke]

Sprint has really embraced startups in the Kansas City area, and Hesse stated that they actively looks for ways to integrate Sprint within the community.

Next up was Alexis Ohanion, the cofounder of Reddit.

His credentials are quite impressive. He invests and consults with over 50 startups and is an original YCombinator startup and current YCombinator ambassador.

One of his key messages was “Have an idea? Start doing it.” Alexis had a “Waffle House Epiphany”, as he called it and decided not to be a lawyer… and instead work on a startup idea that he had called, “My Mobile Menu” or Mmm. It would have been an app that allowed people to order food from their phone in an age before smartphones.

During the spring break of his fourth year in college, one of his cofounder Steve’s favorite internet pundits, Paul Graham, was speaking at Boston with a talk on “How to Start a Startup”. Alexis and Steve went up to Paul Graham after his speech and pitched him on his concept. My Mobile Menu was gonna take over the world… Paul just launched Ycombinator, they didn’t’ like the MMM idea… but they liked Steve and Alexis. They ended up ditching their original idea to work with Paul Graham in Boston. Next thing you know, Reddit was born.

Serendipity can happen… but it’s up to you to make it happen.

One of Alexis’ key passions is to keep the internet free and open. He ferociously fought Congress against SOPA and PIPA. They even paid for a billboard outside the Texas Senator that sponsored the bill that read, “Don’t mess with the Internet”. Boom.

Internet innovation is happening all over America… NOT just Silicon Valley. They took part in a documentary about what’s going in the midwest, called “Silicon Prairie”. In true innovator fashion, it’s free to download.

Costs fall everyday for servers… with Reddit, they had to buy the servers, install them and take them to the co-location. With Hipmunk, they just busted out the credit card to Amazon’s S3.

Businesses adapt or they go away. Unfortunately, the prevailing thought for people in power is, “If someone succeeds, there is less for me” … This is NOT the case, said Ohanion.

Being entrepreneurial is something that is being done all over the world every day. With the industrial revolution, you needed to set up a factory… today with the internet revolution, you need just a laptop and an internet connection to share your awesome ideas. And that’s why Alexis is fighting for the open internet.

His presentation was very inspiring and well received. Alexis is an engaging, brilliant mind who is an incredible speaker.

Next up was Adam Wilson of Sphero.

Wilson talked about robotics and how Sphero created piece of hardware where smartphones can change what the product is. It’s not a remote controlled ball, it’s a a whole new world modified with the smartphone app.

This Sphero ball is pretty cool. You can control it in endless virtual worlds. They’ve opened up the platform for developers to develop augmented reality apps and games with the ball. It’s quite innovative. In fact, Sphero even got Obama to play with their balls.

Wilson offered some great advice for entrepreneurs, “Surround yourself with mentors. Talk and interview everyone that is in your space. If you don’t your startup will die.”

Here are Jamie Wong of Vayable shares her Top Ten Lessons for Entrepreneurship

10. Validate Your Assumptions
9. Talk to Strangers
8. Play to your strengths.
7. Start from the heart
6. Put Community over Credentials
5. Embrace Your Delusions
4. Find your Virgil
3. Get it out
2. Be Authentic
1. Build the World you Want to Live in.

Scott Harrison, CEO of Charity:Water was next to present.

His presentation was one of the most emotional presentations that I’ve personally ever witnessed. He shared real life examples of his trips to other countries where the citizens don’t have access to clean water. The diseases and struggles that these people have to go through is literally mind boggling.

Once Harrison noticed this, he decided to help take a stand a make a change. He began researching and finding ways to help these communities get clean water. Over time, his foundation, Charity:Water has received many donations from all over the world to help make a huge difference in people’s lives.

Clean water changes everything. Clean water knocks out 25% of the diseases immediately. Gives some people back 3-8 hours back of their time, which allows them to become better parents… or find some time to start a business. For every $1 spent on clean water in these communities, it generates $12-$22 in economic gains. Clean water is huge!

Also, Charity:Water uses 100% of the public donations for it’s water projects. They take private donations and sponsorships to pay for business expenses, but all public donations are used for water improvement. Not only that, but they’ve developed tools and apps to show people EXACTLY where their donations are being used. You can look on Google Maps and see which community utilized your donations.

One of the things that Harrison talked about was the idea of “Giving Up Your Birthday”. If you are turning 30 years old, instead of having a birthday party, invite all of your friends to donate $30 to Charity:Water. This idea has generated thousands and thousands of dollars in donations which have resulted in hundreds of communities getting access to clean water. Some people took the idea a step further and have given up their weddings, anniversaries, honeymoons… to give money to Charity:Water… to help provide clean drinking water to people across the world.

He then told a story that made me teary eyed. Of a 9 year old girl, Rachel, who gave up her 9th birthday to Charity:Water. She wanted to raise $300, but unfortunately only raised $220. She pledged that next year she would do better. There would be no next year, as a couple of weeks later she was killed in a tragic car accident. On her behalf, people started donating money at they ended up getting over $1,200,000 dollars for these wells in African communities. Unbelievable story.

Don Martell of spoke some great words of wisdom to the Big Kansas City crowd.

1. Don’t Listen to Your Parents

2. Motivation Trumps Knowledge

3. You are the average of the top 5 people you spend the most time with.

4. Hustle to Help

One of his biggest learnings was a challenge he had with a tough customer. One of his mentors told him to “Get your best suit on and show up at that clients office tomorrow morning. ” He did it and helped save his company from getting sued. So, don’t be afraid to take the extra mile. “I’m Dan Martel and I’m here to make it right.” Words for business owners to consider when things go badly. Don’t be afraid to apologize and fix the problem.

Dan also shared a great story about his brother who followed his dreams and became a successful home builder, by listening to his customers and helping them build their dream home. Wow, listening to your customers! What a brilliant idea! More businesses should do this!

Dhani Jones finished up the keynotes of the first day of Big Kansas City.

He got us all to get up and do the Harlem Shake. This was my first and last Harlem Shake that I will ever participate in. Dhani talked about how much he loved the University of Michigan. Personally, I booed when he said that and he called me out. Well, my Kansas Jayhawks are playing the Michigan Wolverines Friday night in the NCAA tournament. So, I needed to equalize the mojo!

Dhani also talked about his Bowtie Cause, which he sells bow ties for certain charities, such as the Alzheimer’s Foundation, the American Diabetes Foundation and many others. After he spoke, we made amends as he knew I was joking about booing Michigan…. well, kinda. #rockchalk

All in all, today was a very motivational, inspirational and educational conference. The Kansas City entrepreneur community is budding with brilliant minds and Google Fiber, the Kauffman Foundation and Silicon Prairie News are helping lead the way for innovation.

So keep an eye on the midwest, as good things are happening in flyover country.

Originally published on Technorati

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Travis Wright is a Venture Catalyst, Public Speaker, Digital Disrupter, Marketing Provocateur, Stand Up Comedian, Tech Blogger & Brand Awesomeizer.

This Travis Wright guy shares marketing resources, industry analysis, interwebs strategery & random hilarity along w/ occasional sport or political rants. If you can stand his jokes and want his opinion on something, feel free to connect with him.

email: tw [at] traviswright [dot] com