Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Fiber Houses of Kansas City

By Evan Robertson, Project Associate. 

Nearly seven years after “google” became a transitive verb in the Oxford English Dictionary, Google (the company) is fashioning a new noun. Springing up around the Kansas City area are “fiber houses,” single-family houses that provide entrepreneurs inexpensive access to Google’s ultra-speed internet infrastructure being built throughout the Kansas City area. 

The idea was initiated by local Kansas City developer Ben Barreth who opened up a house in Kansas City, Kansas’s Hanover Heights neighborhood. Tech company founders can stay at the house, rent-free, for up to three months, gaining access to 800Mbps internet speeds – the internet speed at my office is around 6Mbps. In exchange, Kansas City builds a vibrant startup culture. This isn’t just an anomaly either, Brad Feld (author of Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your Cityand tech entrepreneur out of Boulder, CO) teamed up with the Kauffman Foundation to hold “Feld’s KC Fiber House Competition.” Think business plan competition where the reward is a free place to stay for a year instead of the usual cash prize. Both efforts are an attempt to foster a rich entrepreneurial culture around, arguably, the most significant infrastructure investment we’ve seen in the last two decades. 

Barreth and Feld’s investment into the Kansas City area, in the Hannover Heights neighborhood specifically, is part of a much bigger movement – dubbed the Kansas City Startup Village – that transcends state boundaries. The Village is “an entrepreneur-led, organic grassroots initiative helping to bolster the Kansas City entrepreneur and startup scene by creating a concentrated and collaborative community of startups.” The Village seeks businesses and entrepreneurs who wish to locate (or relocate) their businesses into the cities’ designated “fiberhoods.” Interestingly, the Village makes no distinction between locating on the Missouri or Kansas side of the border as it hugs both sides of the state line. On the Missouri side, the Village includes the neighborhoods of West Plaza North and West Plaza South. On the Kansas side, you have the Hanover Heights and Frank Rushton neighborhoods. Both sides of the line offer what these tech entrepreneurs care most about: ultra-speed internet. 

The Kansas City Startup Village is not an effort to connect disparate Missouri and Kansas entrepreneurs together in some coordinated fashion. As Feld’s book on startup communities points out, entrepreneurs just don’t care about imaginary political boundaries. What they do care about, especially in Kansas City, is super-fast Internet access and how they can leverage it to make a great company. They care about community – their startup community to be specific – and, in the process, blur the dividing line between the states.