UMKC entrepreneurs weigh in on Big Kansas City conference

Sai Srikar Kadiyam

Student  entrepreneurs at UMKC listened to experts explain how to improve their  businesses at the Big Kansas City Conference last Tuesday through Thursday at the National Airline History Museum  at the Downtown Airport

Scott Harrison, founder and CEO of Charity:Water, explained that he was able to raise $100 million for Africa by convincing celebrities to give up their birthday gifts and ask that money instead be donated to his organization, which tries to address the problems of contaminated water in Africa.

Harrison said one in nine people in the world drink water likely to make them ill. So his organization came up with innovative means for fund raising, such as having people give up their birthdays. Instead of parties or presents, people ask for donations to help charity: water. Singer Justin Bieber gave up his 18th birthday.

Harrison was among 14 speakers who demonstrated various ways for entrepreneurs to tell their stories and tried to motivate young businessmen in the audience.

Listeners included five UMKC students or alumni who are active entrepreneurs.

Tim Sylvester, an engineering graduate who now owns Integrated Roadways, said he was particularly impressed with the networking opportunities at the conference.

“The highlights of Big Kansas City, as with any conference like this, is in the networking — meeting people who you’d otherwise probably never meet,” said Sylvester, whose company precasts pavement sections. “Honestly, I didn’t get to spend as much time at BKC as I would have liked.”

Stephen Rehrer, a 1987 graduate who is working on his own startup, was among those who said he was moved by Harrison’s presentation.

“I was moved by Scott Harrison’s non-profit business,” Rehrer said.  “As a leader in the Boy Scouts, I have learned that humans can survive approximately 10 minutes without air, three to five days without water and seven to eight weeks without food. Since most of our earth is covered with breathable air, water is definitely the best place to start addressing the world’s primal needs.”

His startup will help move surplus construction equipment at a reduced cost to companies in need of this equipment.

“This is a way to recycle construction equipment without the need to fill landfills or produce new equipment,” Rehrer explained. “Much of the obsolete construction equipment in the U.S., because of maintenance or operation cost due to the cost of labor, can be redeployed in an under-developing country where labor cost is minimal.”

Chris Cooley, who holds an MBA from UMKC, said he was especially impressed by speakers Micah Baldwin of and Dan Martell of

“They contained a lot of the things that are personally relevant and impact,” Cooley said. “Scott Harrison was absolutely moving and I donated my birthday on the spot. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

“The true genius is in the variety of speakers. You have both men and women and they have taken a variety of different paths to get to success. The beauty is that the advice that seems the least relevant today might be invaluable down the road.”

Evan J. Kirsch, a Bloch School student who owns a startup, Folloboy,  was impressed by the overall event.

“The highlights had to be three things: the environment, the speakers and the networking,” he said. “I learned both hard and soft skills that can be applied in running the day-to-day operations of our company as well as met countless others who we will be doing business with in the near future.”

Other speakers were Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint, Alexis Ohanian, reddit, Adam Wilson, Sphero, Jamie Wong, Vayable, Dhani Jones,  BowTie Cause, Ryan Downs, Proxibid,Jason Zone Fisher (host), Amy Jo Martin, Digital Royalty,Thom Ruhe, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Mike Macadaan, Science Inc., Rachel Brooks, Citizen Made Abhi Nemani, Code for America and Bart Stein, Stamped/Yahoo!

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