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The Midwest is home, said Chris Rehkamp.
“This is where I feel like I’m really rooted. Part of that movement wanted to be close to family, and another part is that it feels natural, ”said Rehkamp of accepting a position as associate director of the Technology Ventures Studio at the Innovation Center of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Rehkamp began the role in January and is expected to officially move from Hawaii to Kansas City later this month, he explained. The Technology Ventures program continues to be led by Jill Meyer.
“I’ve actually never been to KC,” Rehkamp said with a laugh. “My wife went to high school in Lincoln, Nebraska, and we lived on a farm south of there. So this is the closest I have lived [to Kansas City].
Although Rehkamp handled virtual work with a five-hour time difference, he already got a feel for Kansas City’s collaborative spirit, he noted.
“That’s what I really like about the Midwest – it’s really hot and everyone has brought me in with open arms,” Rehkamp said. “Kansas City is very familiar and exciting at the same time. “
It’s time to settle down
Rehkamp spent his childhood in Minnesota where he grew up in a family of small business owners, he shared. There he helped his parents with cabin and boat rentals.
“It showed me that you could create something of value and people would compensate you for it,” he explained.
But it wasn’t until Rehkamp spent time in Washington DC that he saw himself as an active member of the startup ecosystem, he continued. In DC, Rehkamp worked at Union cuisine – a startup that supports local food entrepreneurs.
“We were raising funds with a very small team; So it was that typical scenario where 10 people sitting at a conference table were jostling each other all day, ”he said. “… We started our own distribution company; we have created our own catering business; [we] ended up opening our own grocery stores. It became a vertically integrated business that was defined by aligning incentives with the customers and the people we wanted to serve. So this experience made me see myself more as an ecosystem builder.
With a new passion for supporting start-ups, Rehkamp then found himself 30 minutes north of the University of Maryland where he managed the business school risk accelerator.
“For me, it really solidified the idea of living near the people I want to serve in order to understand their needs and build the ecosystems they want to develop,” said Rehkamp. “In Hawaii, I used to do the same thing and wear a number of different hats – besides being a business owner myself – and I see that as a big part of my role at UMKC as well.”
From the big cities to the Big Island (and even spending time in Ecuador), Rehkamp seeks to make Kansas City a permanent home, he noted.
“[My wife Sarah and I] are delighted to settle down, ”said Rehkamp. “A big part of this movement is that we don’t move anymore. We come to Kansas City to stay.
Community on Clubhouse
In his role at UMKC, Rehkamp works with KC digital sandbox, Whiteboard2Boardroom and KCInvestED. It focuses on how to build community around these programs and looks for additional programs that would support the continued growth of entrepreneurs in the programs.
“With Digital Sandbox, there are a lot of things that come after the $ 20,000 proof of concept funding we could do to encourage their growth,” Rehkamp said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made community development a challenge for many, noted Rehkamp. To combat feelings of isolation, Rehkamp uses the Clubhouse audio-only social networking app. The app is designed for host virtual rooms for live discussions, with opportunities for individuals to participate by speaking and listening.
Rehkamp launched the Clubhouse group KC Starter Resources as a casual way for entrepreneurs to meet virtually and stay connected until it is possible to do so in person. The Clubhouse group meets at 5:30 p.m. CST. every Friday.
“There haven’t been so many opportunities to come together and say ‘These are my needs’ or ‘These are my wins’ and just celebrate and talk,” he said. “So we decided to throw this time around and see if we could get people to join in on this conversation. It’s like a weekly happy hour.
The Clubhouse’s first group met on April 16 with about 40 community members, Rehkamp noted. The next conversation is set for April 23 at 5:30 p.m.
Through Rehkamp’s experiences in various startup communities, he found that the best performing people were those who gave more than they protected, he said.
“I think there is a lot to be gained then by being generous and supporting others,” Rehkamp explained. “You learn that no one does any of this alone. We build teams, and even if we put founder or owner as a title, it takes a lot of people to help kick-start something. “
“More than our LinkedIn titles”
With Rehkamp making Kansas City his new home, he wanted to assure the community that he was planning to participate in much more than his job description stated.
“I think we’re all more than our LinkedIn titles or our titles. I really see myself as a lot of things – I’m an artist too, ”Rehkamp said. “I see [art] like very entrepreneurial. I love to be around music and artists, play music and support other artists.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the food system and love it,” he continued. “Kansas City appears to be excellent at both of these areas. So for all of these reasons and more, I’m really excited to be here and to contribute to the community in so many ways.
This story is possible thanks to the support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, non-partisan foundation that works with the education and entrepreneurship communities to create unusual solutions and empower people to shape their futures and succeed.
For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect to www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn