2011/06/11

Tech Fun In Kansas City: Tech Entrepreneurs, CCCKC, Maker Faire



The Kansas City metro area has a multitude of notable tech and entrepreneurial organizations, and I was fortunate enough to intersect with a couple of them yesterday. In the afternoon, serendipity gifted me with an opportunity to briefly meet several people connected with the 20/20 Leadership program in the KC community. Later in the day I got the chance to visit the KC hackerspace otherwise know as the Cowtown Computer Congress (CCCKC).

After heading south from Appleton, Wisconsin, and surviving several episodes of torrential combinations of night-time darkness, rain, wind and lightning, I arrived in Kansas City, Kansas (KCK) and headed to the office of Joe Reardon, the visionary mayor of KCK. Joe played an important role in bringing the Google Fiber project to KCK. If Joe has time to meet in the next few days, his input regarding community technology evangelism in KCK will be very helpful. His assistant Gwen had called me to say she didn't receive the email I sent regarding meeting with Joe. In response to the recalcitrant email systems, I printed out a copy of the email and its attachment and took it to Gwen up on the 9th floor of the imposing KCK City Hall.

After leaving the mayor's office, I headed west on State Avenue and landed at Panera Bread, my favorite 'third place.' As I munched on a delicious whole grain toasted bagel and downed piping hot Panera coffee, I became aware that a group of people at an adjacent table were discussing a topic highly relevant to my trip to KC. That experience has happened to me in San Francisco coffee shops, but I didn't expect it to occur so quickly in KCK. A pleasant surprise! Two adult mentors connected with the 20/20 Leadership program were discussing some cool-sounding under-the-radar projects being worked on be some smart, hard-working, creative KCK students in the 20/20 program. Because I'm a community technology evangelist, and because the tech entrepreneur students and mentors at the nearby table were target audiences for a community technology evangelist, I briefly interjected myself into their conversation. They graciously explained a bit about what the students are working on and the concept behind 20/20 Leadership. It was great to connect with such a good example of tech innovation and entrepreneurism within a few hours of touching down in KCK.

The CCCKC hackerspace is located in the 'Cave,' an underground office space in Kansas City, Missouri. Joel K and 'the Michaels' were having hacker movie night at CCCKC and preparing for Maker Faire KC. After Joel showed me their hackerspace layout, we watched a couple geek-friendly movies, "The Incredibles" and "The Abyss," whilst discussing
Maker Faire KC, demographics of various hacker/maker groups, hackerspaces in general, tech groups and events in KCMO and KCK, and a plethora of other tangential topics. Joel brought up a couple topics where DHMN, Sector67, and other hacker/maker organizations might be of assistance, so I sent out an email today connecting him with a few people who may contribute to CCCKC's role at Maker Faire KC.

A KC tech tidbit I found whilst surfing at CCCKC was a blog post describing the new Fab Lab being organized for Business & Technology Campus at the Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City. Having promoted the idea of an MIT Fab Lab at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin, I was happy to hear that Kansas City will soon join the growing list of MIT Fab Labs around the world.

The MCC Fab Lab presents a great opportunity for developing gigabit access innovations between two Fab Lab locations. It would be great if discussions and planning start in the near future about organizing a TechLab Innovation Center in KCK. The TechLab Innovation Center concept incorporates four existing technology and entrepreneurism facilitation models.
  1. TechShop -- "a membership-based workshop that provides members with access to tools and equipment, instruction, and a community of creative and supportive people so they can build the things they have always wanted to make."
  2. MIT Fab Lab -- these Fab Labs are designed to help "ordinary people to not just learn about science and engineering, but actually design machines and make measurements that are relevant to improving the quality of their lives", providing "widespread access to modern means for invention" with the long term goal of "a fab lab being able to make a fab lab." That goal is also seen on a much smaller scale with the RepRap project and is also reflected in the ambitious charter of the Open Source Ecology project and their Factor e Farm, which coincidentally happens to be --- in the Kansas City area!
  3. Coworking -- coworking is centered around the idea that "independent professionals and those with workplace flexibility work better together than they do alone."
  4. MTU Enterprise Program -- Enterprise teams "function like virtual companies, are student led and student managed, and draw on MTU's disciplinary, research, innovations, and entrepreneurial strengths to succeed as businesses."
Beginning planning soon for a KCK TechLab Innovation Center will allow the Center to be launched at the same time the Google Fiber Kansas City network ties together KCK and KCMO with gigabit connections!

Had a busy first day finding out more about the KC area and technology related groups and events in the community. Looking forward to more of the same over the next couple days!

*****

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