In the process of looking for a new crop of companies to invest in on behalf of Techstars Kansas City, I thought I should highlight the type of companies I think are undervalued and critical to our economy. In 2017 we invested in Ampogee. The founders of Ampogee realized they had uncovered a solution that could help the manufacturing industry as a whole optimize their workforce and increase productivity by a minimum of 20 percent.
My first question was of course, according to my friends at MIT, all manufacturing facilities will soon be full of robots, not people, so how can this be relevant? The founders quickly helped me understand that most manufacturing companies or companies with manufacturing facilities do not have granular data on productivity and therefore understanding what can actually be automated would be extremely difficult due to the lack of data.
As Tim O’Reilly has referred to in his new book WTF (Why the Future, and What’s Up to Us), machines will in most cases be extensions of humans, not necessarily a replacement for humans. In a similar way we have no complete provenance data on machine parts, nor any supply chain transparency on the steak I am eating for dinner. We are making massive assumptions about many things with a lack of granular data that can inform logistics, supply and in this case employee engagement and productivity. All of this might be considered super boring (not sexy), which has actually increased my interest.
A significant number of manufacturing facilities fall into the category of 100-500 employees. In 2015, there were 251,774 firms in the manufacturing sector in the United States, with all but 3,813 firms considered to be small (i.e., having fewer than 500 employees). These firms have little to no technology in place to measure productivity, let alone engage employees to boost productivity and retention.
According to Kylene Zenk with the Manufacturing Business Technology, “in 2016 alone, manufacturers contributed $2.18 trillion to the U.S. economy. In fact, for every dollar spent in manufacturing another $1.81 is added to the economy, which is the single largest multiplier in any industry.” This “boring” problem is a huge economic opportunity.
Robert Lawrence of the Kenny School at Harvard further explains that “while some blame measurement errors for the recently recorded slowdown in manufacturing productivity growth, spending patterns in the United States and elsewhere suggest that the productivity slowdown is real and that thus far fears about robots and other technological advances in manufacturing displacing large numbers of jobs appear misplaced.” But, manufacturers in the United States currently put only 10 percent of their capital spending into tech equipment and software, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Sounds like a market opportunity.
Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist of the Progressive Policy Institute has stated that “we’re about to find out that innovation in domestic manufacturing isn’t a job destroyer at all—it’s a job creator.” According to the National Association of Manufacturers over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be needed. This is occuring in parallel with a recognized massive skills gap and shortage of available employees to work in manufacturing firms. Attracting and retaining employees in the manufacturing sector has to become a national priority.
All the above leads me to believe that in this industry segment, productivity is about more than autonomous cars and robots. There are few technology solutions focused on employee engagement and productivity, and Ampogee has proven success with their customers that today include across industries (Sandvik, Michelin, Thermo Fisher, Commscope etc). The time has come to embrace technology in the manufacturing industry and I am feeling pretty confident about the role that Ampogee will play in the future of this industry.
We are excited to announce the ten companies that will be joining the Techstars Kansas City Accelerator for our 2017 program. We kick things off this week and are looking forward to three months of awesomeness, capped off by Demo Day on October 12. This is the first class to go through the Techstars Kansas City program.
Techstars is the Worldwide Network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and strong partners and incredible mentors help make this happen. We’re grateful for your support and we couldn’t do it without you. Almost all of our companies were referred from our mentor network.
We love this city and know 2017 is going to be an amazing year for both Techstars and Kansas City. If you have additional questions about our companies, please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com
Without further ado, here are the Kansas City 2017 companies:
Ampogee gamifies manufacturing, engaging and motivating employees – making operational excellence look easy.
CasaIQ is a smart home solution for multi-family properties.
GRIT Virtual Construction creates VR software solutions for the simulated use and construction of our built world.
Hanzo is a cutting-edge platform that helps companies quickly scale.
NexusEdge is a career development platform for lifelong learning powered by artificial intelligence.
Planetarians provides plant based high protein, high fiber food products at an affordable cost.
REP provides artificial intelligence for human movement. A revolution in the world of sports and physical rehabilitation.
Somatic Labs provides a software and hardware stack that animates your sense of touch, enabling a future of wearable devices that leverage what our bodies do best: feeling.
TeacherTalent where big data predicts teacher effectiveness and matches the best teachers with client schools.
Vector Legal Method is building the first comprehensive litigation case management, collaboration and analytics application.
When you receive an invitation to meet Anita Hill and spend time with Ellen Pao, you go. And later, you share the experience with others.
Mitch and Freada Kapor have been personal guiding lights for me on the topic of inclusion for a long time. They challenge my own understanding, sometimes beating me up but, always making me better. Recently, they hosted a sold out event in San Francisco that allowed all of us to Reimagine Equality – cleverly titled after one of Anita Hill’s books.
After working in support of greater inclusion in and around entrepreneurship since 2004, it is difficult not to be frustrated that Anita and Ellen became “famous” for similar reasons twenty-six years apart. Anita Hill with her famous Clarence Thomas sexual harassment case, Ellen Pao after her lawsuit for gender discrimination with a Silicon Valley VC firm. These two women changed the conversation about bias and harassment.
One of the reasons (on top of sheer admiration of the team) that I joined Techstars was and is the opportunity to take everyday action in supporting and growing a worldwide ecosystem of entrepreneurs that are inclusive. I am happy to work in an organization that pushes us each day to assure inclusiveness in everything we do. A work in progress.
In 1931, J.T. Adams wrote the Epic of America, which is highlighted in one of Professor Anita Hill’s books. “A dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be …recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
At Techstars Kansas City, we are in the process of selection for our first Techstars class and I am keeping this quote top of mind every day. We are looking for companies that will have a positive impact on lives if they scale and founders who are uniquely capable of scaling those companies – regardless of birth or position.
In the process of applications and interviews, I have talked to a number of entrepreneurs who say – I’m too early in the process but I wish there were ways in which I could engage with you and get ready. At Techstars, we have a broad network of opportunities like Startup Weekend and Startup Week to help you get ready.
For individuals in the midwest, take advantage of Startup Weekend Kansas City, I will be there looking for 2018 Techstars applicants that are getting ready. I hope to see lots of new faces there and commit to a weekend of inclusion and support for you.
We recently held AMA sessions about applying to an accelerator program. To help answer questions, we had Lesa Mitchell, managing director for Techstars Kansas City, and Jenny Fielding, managing director for Techstars IoT in New York City.
What are common mistakes to avoid when applying to an accelerator?
Jenny: If you send an incomplete application, meaning you don’t put a video of your product and of the founders, that’s going to be really hard for us. You have to understand that we get thousands and thousands of applications, so the first thing we do is look at the founder video. If you don’t put that in, that’s really tough for us. Similarly, the product video is very helpful.
Another common mistake is being very verbose and writing paragraphs and paragraphs. This is not a college essay, this is all about being concise and making your point. I encourage you to think it through. If you tend to be long-winded, then have someone edit it.
Another mistake is the question in the application where it asks if you could list a few competitors, and people say ‘none.’ That always gives me pause, because I’m pretty sure that there are people in the space that you are working in. They may be thinking about it differently, but you need to know your market.
Another thing I would say is that you can wait for the night before, but the thing I would encourage you to do is try to make contact with people that are running these programs before you apply. If you just send in an application, you’ve never been to any of our events and you’ve never had any contact with us, and you send it in the night before, sometimes that’s not the best approach.
Although we look at and read every single application, my strong advice is get to know us before and apply early. That way, as we read them we can get back to you and schedule something or contact you if we see something missing.
Lesa: There is no such thing as being too simple when describing what you’re doing. You want to do it in a way that investors and customers can understand. Keep it as simple as possible in terms of trying to help us understand the problems that you’re solving with your company.
We are excited to launch our new Techstars KC program. I have begun the hunt for the ten companies to begin our inaugural year.
The rise of digital has eroded boundaries. Today a company can start anywhere in the world. Despite the ever-increasing access opportunities, starting a company is still a lonely, scary journey and the chances of failure are high. To be successful, founders need access to the best global resources to perfect their business model and product, and to ultimately scale the company.
The Techstars team in Kansas City is looking for founders who are solving big, complex problems. To do this, we want the most promising minds join this program. I’ve worked with entrepreneurs for many years, and I will continue to be a tireless supporter of the companies selected for Techstars Kansas City.
As a city program we are not driven towards a specific vertical. We’re looking for companies that are:
Disintermediating markets. Companies that will eliminate the intermediary in a sector, lower costs, and have a powerful, positive impact in the marketplace. Great examples are Neighborly and Classpass.
Capable of having a positive impact on the future of infrastructure. This could include (but isn’t limited to) companies that are developing sustainable building materials, sensors collecting new types of data, and business models that will reduce the cost and improve outcomes for humans and the planet.
Not only will developed economies be rebuilding old infrastructure for the next 20 years, but growing economies will be doubling down on new and better technology. (Sidewalk Labs’ recent Medium post entitled Data is the New Concrete provides excellent context setting for the future.)
Addressing talent, skills and education. We have a huge gap between skills needed in the current and future economy and the availability of talent to address those skills. We have hosted many Teach For America entrepreneurship conferences in Kansas City, and it is apparent that there are not enough solutions to address this problem locally or globally.
I will be gathering experts and mentors from across the country to come to Kansas City and enable successful outcomes for all the companies accepted into Techstars Kansas City.
Techstars is transparent about the companies that have joined our ecosystem, and a proxy for the company’s success can be viewed through the lens of follow-on dollars raised. You can review the recently released summary data on this topic via Mattermark or review even more granular data here.
Techstars Kansas City will be accepting applications until April 9, 2017. Apply here!
I will be hosting office hours in Durham NC on Feb 16/17, Phoenix AZ Feb 22 and Johannesburg, South Africa March 15.
Look to this blog and follow me on Twitter @lesamitchell to receive updates.