Fundraising can be tough for any entrepreneur – particularly for those in the Midwest.
To spur more capital investment opportunities and bridge the funding gap for the makers, doers and dreamers in the heartland, the Kauffman Foundation in 2016 launched a scholarship program with Kauffman Fellows, the independent, two-year venture capital and leadership program based in Silicon Valley.
This scholarship program renews the distinctive partnership between the Kauffman Foundation and the Kauffman Fellows program. Created by the Foundation in 1995, the Kauffman Fellows program was designed to enhance entrepreneurial access to venture capital by improving understanding and relationships between venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.
Since becoming an independent organization more than two decades ago, the Kauffman Fellows program has graduated nearly 500 Fellows who now lead more than 200 venture capital firms representing funds investing billions into startups in 40+ countries.
Kauffman Fellows actively recruits women and minorities in the belief that communities are stronger and more capable of serving entrepreneurs with a multiplicity of viewpoints and backgrounds.
"This program is a key component of our initiative designed to address key market gaps and help Midwestern entrepreneurs become more successful," said Victor Hwang, vice president of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation and a Kauffman Fellow alum. "The middle of the country represents a huge opportunity for investors and our work with Kauffman Fellows provides access to an extensive network as we continue our work to solve the Midwest capital gap."
Applications open for 2018 scholarships
This marks the first year of the Kauffman Foundation's $960,000 funding program, with four scholarships awarded per year for each of the next three years.
Two recipients each year will be chosen from the Kansas City metropolitan area; one from the heartland states (Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska); and one from the midcontinent region stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians.
Applications for the scholarship are available through the Kauffman Fellows program. The application deadline is Dec. 15, 2017. For more information, please contact Katlyn Mease.
Inaugural scholarship recipients speak
The first four scholarship recipients began their Fellowship in June 2017. Convening for their first Midwest chapter meeting in September 2017, they already see the distinct advantages the Kauffman Fellows program can give them to help build regional ecosystems.
"It's so exciting to see the tremendous strides the Midwestern Fellows are making in bolstering their ecosystems," said Jeff Harbach, CEO of Kauffman Fellows. "They are helping to connect investors in the region and providing real support for entrepreneurs who need and want investors who will empower them."
For Lisa Feria, CEO of Stray Dog Capital in Kansas City, the program has helped her understand how critical it is to form deep relationships in the investment community. "Not only are you understanding how to be a better and more efficient venture capitalist or entrepreneur, but you're also deepening relationships that help you do all those things," Feria said.
Thad Langford, a founding partner at Flyover Capital in Kansas City, believes the program can bring much-needed industry expertise to mid-continent ecosystems. "Kauffman Fellows is a great opportunity on multiple levels," he said. "One is education around venture capital business as a whole and the opportunity to engage with some of the foremost leaders in the industry and bring back learning to the Midwest."
Scott Bernstein is founder of Lewis & Clark Ventures, St. Louis' first $100M+ venture fund focusing on high-potential investment opportunities throughout the Midwest. Bernstein says he's already learning how investors in the Midwest can band together and become a more tight-knit investment community. "It's not always easy to raise money in the Midwest," Bernstein said. "To the extent that we can share knowledge with other investors in how to raise in this climate will help us all."
Victor Gutwein is founder of M25, a Chicago-based, early-stage micro-VC fund whose aim is to fill a gap in funding early-stage tech startups in the Midwest. "There are countless ways the program can help emerging VCs, including the strengths of relationships formed," Gutwein said. "This is critical for investors not based in Silicon Valley. Doing a deal here necessitates a high degree of trust and collaboration with people across multiple cities."