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Two Previously Collaborative Startup Accelerators in Kansas City, Mo., Go Separate Ways

Sprint and Techstars, collaborators for the last three years, are launching separate programs in Kansas City to nurture startup businesses.

by Mark Davis, The Kansas City Star / October 21, 2016
Kansas City, Mo. Flickr/Stuart Seeger

(TNS) -- Sprint and Techstars, collaborators for the last three years, are launching separate programs in Kansas City to nurture startup businesses.

Overland Park-based Sprint starts taking applications Thursday for a 2017 Sprint Accelerator program that has undergone a metamorphosis since the three-year joint effort with Colorado-based Techstars ended last June.

Sprint is bringing in new corporate sponsors, naming Kansas City-based Dairy Farmers of America so far. It’s splitting the 90-day program into three themed clusters — digital, agriculture technology and a third still to be named.

And Sprint’s accelerator is moving up the startup ladder to bring in more-established budding businesses than in years past. Candidates need to have products, customers and revenues — in short, a startup business that is ready to scale up.

“We think we’re introducing the next generation of corporate accelerators,” said Kevin McGinnis, CEO of Pinsight Media+, a Sprint subsidiary and a strategic partner in the accelerator.

Startup businesses in the accelerator likely will end up doing business with Sprint, Dairy Farmers of America Inc. and other corporate sponsors, who likely will end up doing business with each other as well.

Dairy Farmers of America is a marketing cooperative that counts 14,000 dairy farmer members. It has 354 area employees.

It joined the accelerator to spur its own innovation and to “connect us with entrepreneurs in ag tech that will deliver value to our dairy farmer owners,” said Kevin Strathman, senior vice president of finance, commercial divisions.

Techstars, meanwhile, announced its own business accelerator here on Wednesday. Techstars Kansas City will open for applications in January for a program for 10 startups beginning in July.

It has hired Lesa Mitchell as managing director of Techstars Kansas City. Mitchell had been vice president of innovation and networks at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and had worked at Ewing Kauffman’s business, Marion Laboratories.

A Techstars blog announcing the program invites potential corporate partners to email info@techstars.com. Startups can apply online. More details will come forth during a Techstars event at Union Station next week.

For three years, the Sprint accelerator program in Kansas City was among dozens that Techstars ran around the world. The idea was to speed up the development process that young companies go through.

At the conclusion of last year’s program and the three-year contract with Techstars, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said the Sprint Accelerator needed a broader sponsorship group and invited others to consider joining the accelerator. Sprint, Dairy Farmers of America and the third cluster leader will bring in other strategic corporate partners.

So far, Dairy Farmers of America has named Dairy One Cooperative Inc., an Ithaca, N.Y., co-op that generates data and information to improve dairy farming operations. Sprint has named Pinsight Media+ and Virgin Mobile USA Inc., which Sprint spun off earlier this year as a separate subsidiary in Kansas City.

Each cluster also will accept three or four “post-revenue, second-stage growth” startup businesses. The application process is open to any company, but McGinnis said cluster leaders also will actively recruit startups that fit their focus.

Other changes in the Sprint Accelerator include skipping Sprint’s investment in the startups. In years past, Sprint bought 6 percent of each company for a flat price.

Next year’s group won’t fit that bill. They likely already have raised some money and will have different price tags in place. They also will be more likely to have established operations and be less able to move to Kansas City and the accelerator site for the 90 days, though they’ll be welcome to do so.

Next year’s program will culminate with a demo day at which the startups will pitch their businesses to an audience that includes potential investors.

©2016 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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