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If you haven't heard yet, Kansas City is a great place for startups and entrepreneurs these days. While it has always been a city of opportunities, the last decade has brought revitalization in urban living, the arts, and technology that has lead to the birth of a new tech hub here in the Midwest. It's been my great pleasure to help this scene develop through my role as a co-founder of SparkLabKC, Kansas City's 90-day accelerator program for early stage technology companies.

Through SparkLabKC, I've had the opportunity to work closely with 30 startup companies over the past three years, many of which are seeing continued success and growth. The accelerator process is intense — densely packed with mentorship, product development, market strategy, pitch creation, and interdisciplinary collaboration. When it's working at its best, it is a model for community-accelerated innovation, development, and growth.

This week, I'd like to share my experiences with a few of these companies as well as some news about what they're up to today.

PopBookings Makes A Big Bang

Recent graduates of SparkLabKC's Class of 2015, PopBookings founders Erika Klotz and Scott Hanson impressed me early on as young go-getters who saw an opportunity for improvement in their industry and weren't afraid to build it themselves. As the founders of a modeling agency, they witnessed the growth of the experiential marketing industry and the difficulty agencies had providing qualified and reliable temporary talent to represent products at big events. Instead of complaining about the problem, they decided to build the solution they were looking for, and PopBookings was born.

After the PopBookings team worked hard throughout the accelerator process to develop and polish their product, their first big success came when they successfully launched their seed round with some major funding, which was reported in the Kansas City Business Journal. And just a few weeks ago came another big success: At the culmination of KC Tech Week, PopBookings won the People's Choice Award, setting itself apart from a crowd of over one hundred companies competing for the $50,000 prize.

The award will allow Scott and Erika to continue to pursue their vision for the future of PopBookings, and make a big impact on the experiential marketing space.

Hello Fearless Builds A Brand, Fearlessly

One company that stood out to me in SparkLabKC's Class of 2014 was Hello Fearless. Founder Sara Davidson backs up a winning personality with incredible business savvy and the important goal of empowering other female entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams. Through a partnership with Kauffman FastTrac, Hello Fearless offers an online course and community, Boss School, designed to help transform “bold women into brave entrepreneurs.” The first class was a resounding success.

Sara's background in marketing and branding may be Hello Fearless' biggest strength. She fearlessly pursues opportunities to put Hello Fearless on the map, and her hard work continues to pay off. She's been featured on The Huffington Post in a HuffPostLive segment on “Supporting Fellow Women at Work,” and was recently named as a standout member of the Techweek100 Kansas City list. Sara's fierce drive and determination make her a powerful ally and role model for young women pursuing entrepreneurship.

Your Adoption Finance Coach Nurtures Success

As a member of SparkLabKC's inaugural Class of 2013, Kelly Ellison, founder of Your Adoption Finance Coach, inspired me with her passionate story about the challenges and rewards of adoption. As an adoptive father myself, Kelly's story resonated deeply with me, and I admire the work that she does helping prospective adoptive parents find the funding they need to start a family.

Your Adoption Finance Coach is currently running an IndieGoGo Campaign to raise the funding necessary to increase the number of adoption finance coaches and serve even more adoptive families. Check out their page (you may see a familiar face in the video) and please consider supporting this company's fantastic mission!

The SparkLabKC Difference

It's been a very rewarding challenge to coach these early stage companies through the most formative phase of their development. I've learned a lot from them and hopefully provided value in return. They have shown me what it means to run a truly lean company, to pivot on a dime when necessary, and how to keep up with rapidly changing technology and social media. I've hopefully been able to impart some wisdom from my experience building and expanding a large business, selling very tangible products, and creating an extended network of collaboration and support.

Additionally, although the tech field can be a male dominated space, I want to note that the three companies I highlight here are primarily owned and operated by women. I particularly enjoy doing my part to help build strong female owned enterprises. The intelligent, compassionate, driven women I have worked with at SparkLabKC never cease to inspire me.

It's an honor to be involved in Kansas City's fast-growing startup and entrepreneurship scene. Accelerator programs like SparkLabKC have the ability to make a huge difference for early stage companies, and I love supporting both new and established companies through coaching and mentorship.

What impact have coaches had on your professional development? Share you stories by tweeting @Ace_Wagner!