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Sprint to be ‘top-level’ sponsor to Pipeline entrepreneur program

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, June 26, 2013, at 12 a.m.

The Kansas-based Pipeline Entrepreneurial Fellowship can count the nation’s third-largest wireless carrier as its first corporate sponsor.

Pipeline will make the partnership with Overland Park-based Sprint official at a news conference Wednesday in Kansas City, Kan.

The partnership includes a combination of financial and other support, such as technical and mentoring to Pipeline’s fellows and members, many of whom are high-tech entrepreneurs.

Joni Cobb, Pipeline president and CEO, said the Sprint sponsorship includes “a big financial commitment” but did not disclose an exact amount. Cobb said the financial backing is spread over multiple years and makes Sprint the second-largest donor to Pipeline, a nonprofit organization.

Pipeline was launched in 2007, originally as an extension of the now-defunct Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp., to identify, educate and groom a small group of promising Kansas entrepreneurs in technology or biosciences during a yearlong fellowship. Ten Wichitans have been named Pipeline fellows since the program’s inception. In 2012, with the help of financial and other support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the program expanded to include entrepreneurs in Nebraska and Missouri.

Just as important as Sprint’s “top-level” sponsorship, she said, is the wireless carrier’s commitment to provide Pipeline entrepreneurs mentoring expertise as well as help to secure other corporate sponsors. Sprint also plans to include Pipeline entrepreneurs in its own entrepreneurial efforts, she said.

“This is really the type of partnership we need to maintain our approach as a nonprofit,” Cobb said.

Kevin McGinnis, Sprint vice president of product platforms and services, said the new relationship with Pipeline is the culmination of an effort begun by the company a year and a half ago when it decided to recommit itself to supporting startups and entrepreneurs. Before Google and Apple got into mobile wireless devices, it was carriers such as Sprint that supported entrepreneurial software developers to create apps for wireless phones through formal developer programs, he said.

So this latest effort, McGinnis said, is an extension of that, though this time it’s supporting a broader range of entrepreneurs, not just in mobile processes. He said supporting Pipeline was attractive to Sprint because the group directly supports and further develops entrepreneurs. “They really invest in the entrepreneur,” McGinnis said. “That’s really good for the economy and entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

The connection with Pipeline was made between McGinnis and Daveyon Ross, who was a fellow in Pipeline’s 2009 class and already had a “long relationship” with McGinnis.

“I just thought it was a worthwhile opportunity to get them together,” Ross said of introducing McGinnis to Pipeline and Cobb. Before becoming an entrepreneur, Ross also worked as a software engineer at Sprint. “I really didn’t have any preconceived notions. I thought if there was something there, it would naturally happen.”

Trish Brasted, CEO of Wichita Technology Corp., which supports area technology and bioscience startups, said the Pipeline-Sprint partnership is a model for how to engage corporations in supporting locally based entrepreneur programs. It will also bring national-level attention to regional entrepreneurial efforts.

“It’s only going to make us all stronger,” she said. “It will get people on the East and West coasts talking about what’s going on in the Midwest.”

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jsiebenmark.

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