A conversation with Kenton Hansen

05/12/2013 7:34 AM

08/08/2014 10:16 AM

Kenton Hansen is one of those tech-savvy hipsters who always seem to be creating the next iPhone app or Web service.

He’s also a Wichita native who is dedicating his time to nurturing a tech scene in his hometown.

He’s owned or been part of Thrive, Blink Interactive and Apples & Arrows since graduating from Wichita State University.

He helped found the Labor Party, a collaborative office space in Old Town where the tenants have their own creative businesses but are encouraged to interact.

Now he is helping to host a Startup Weekend, a competition for prospective tech entrepreneurs, May 31 to June 2.

Hansen, 31, is married to Lacy, and they have one child.

What is the Labor Party?

It’s a curated community, but I hate the word “curated” because it sounds so snobby. I don’t think we’re pretentious at all. We have a lot of different industries and types of people. I hate when people come and say, “Am I going to be the oldest person here?” Maybe, maybe you will be, but that’s not a bad thing. Age ain’t nothing but a number.

How did it get started?

It started as a way to reduce overhead for four guys who wanted to office together. We recognized the value of collaborating together and sharing the cost associated with the traditional office. We found this space and an opportunity that we felt was going to be valuable. We wanted to share that with the community at large. We focused originally on the “creative community” and limited it to designers and developers and writers and those in the advertising realm.

But quickly we discovered there was a lot more to “creative” than just designing or writing or developing an app. An entrepreneurial community is something we wanted to nurture, so at the beginning of this year, I left Apples & Arrows and started focusing on the Labor Party as a primary mission.

What is Startup Weekend?

It is, in essence, a entrepreneurial competition. Individuals come on Friday night, those who want to pitch business ideas, everything from an app to an idea for a product you might see on Kickstarter or even a service that doesn’t exist right now. … That happens before 7:30 on Friday night, and then we’ll whittle those down to the ones we’re actually going to build. After some Q and A, some teams will form around those ideas – I’m a developer and I m passionate about this product, or I’m a designer and I want to build an app like that, or I’m an entrepreneur and I have experience in this industry.

And from there we start the actual building process on Saturday. And Sunday culminates with a business plan, a lean process model, or whatever you need to convince a judge that your startup is the one that should win. And then, on Sunday night, the presentations start. A panel of three judges from varied industries decide, but it’s less about winning and more about the process.

What’s the takeaway?

At the end, everyone will walk away with practical experience in turning an idea into a business from all different areas, from the actually entrepreneurial side to the design side to the developmental side. Somebody who has never used a computer to develop anything before will see the process of turning an idea into a concept into a real thing. And vice versa, someone who has never turned programming into a business before will have that exact opposite experience in seeing how to turn code into a business.

How did it come to Wichita?

The organizers, the two main forces bringing it here, were Jonathan George, who’s behind EvoMail and Boxcar, and myself. Startup Weekend, the organization, reached out to us and asked us to host it. There hadn’t been an event like Startup Weekend anywhere between Kansas City and Oklahoma City, so within six hours, they reached out to us to host and we were eager to accept.

What does it take to create a tech community in Wichita?

The first step to creating that culture is being unafraid to share completely. There are a lot of people who have a great idea for a product or an app – I’m guilty of this, too, I have a long list of ideas that I’m never going to get to – but people are inherently scared of sharing with someone else. They think that if somebody else profits from my idea, I’ve lost out.

And that’s not wrong, but if you have an idea that never sees the light of day, you killed it before anyone had the chance to steal it. Having a community of people who are mutually excited about change and about having something more like Omaha and more like Austin is key.

How can that get started?

That is what we hope the Labor Party is, a creative garden, a marketplace for ideas – although I hate that term because it’s overused – but it’s a place to gather and share ideas. Once that happens there’s a dynamic energy that flows out of it. Every month we have 30 people come in to listen to a band they like. In that time, they meet someone else they may not have known or a competitor. Final Friday events, Code & Coffee events, they’re not huge, but it’s been up to 25 people. None of those people are members We just host it. That begins the exchange, the collaboration. We are by no means full, we want more people, but, yeah, I think we are finally breaking through to change the culture from “I am one person who owns his idea,” to “We can do this together.”

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