Business Perspectives

Pipeline's goals help keep innovation in Kansas

Big, audacious goals. Thinking big. Punching above its weight. Global growth. Laser focused. Putting Kansas on the map.

These are just a few ways national experts describe the Pipeline technology entrepreneur immersion program and its rapid success.

Big words and even bigger goals. But all of us with Pipeline were motivated to take on this challenge. And the results have surprised many — and inspired even more.

Pipeline provides the resources, local and national networks, skills, mentors and peer relationships to dramatically increase the growth of aggressive and scalable companies in Kansas. Pipeline is additionally focused on building an entrepreneurial "ecosystem" — the network around entrepreneurs necessary for their sustained growth.

Why the focus?

Studies by experts in innovation and economic growth reveal that scalable companies are the ones that make a disproportionate contribution to economic growth. Kansas was ahead of the curve in creating Pipeline as a program focused on these types of companies, and doing so at a time when our economy is clamoring for solutions.

While it is still very early in the program's development, there are already impressive examples of Pipeline entrepreneurial success:

* Reggie Chandra of Rhythm Engineering entered the program in 2008 with his InSync product, which uses artificial intelligence to control traffic flow. He credits Pipeline with making the biggest difference to his growth, increasing revenue from $224,000 to $7.8 million. Additionally, he has hired more than 30 new employees earning far above the state average in salary.

* Pipeline's model also works to ensure our entrepreneurs succeed in their own backyards. Brian Pettey's RobotZone in Winfield is a prime example. Since Pipeline, RobotZone's robotic innovations have increased to more than 3,000 product lines sold to customers such as National Geographic, CBS Sports and ESPN.

* Wichita's Nate Gregory attributes Pipeline to MoJack's accelerated growth in 2010. MoJack's sales grew by 550 percent this past year, prompting him to purchase an 85,000-square-foot building. MoJack is also currently hiring 10 employees, with plans for much more growth in 2011.

* Life science Innovator Alfred Botchway of Xenometrics has increased his employee head count from five to more than 90, expanded his facility by 78,000 square feet and is planning for exponential growth in 2011.

Growth is the aim, and certainly music to our ears. But if we are serious about keeping these companies here as they grow, we also need equally aggressive networks to help achieve those goals. Whether hunting for essential investors, locating strategic partners, advisers and expertise, opening new channels to new markets — our entrepreneurs need to know they have access to these essential building blocks. Otherwise Kansas risks losing these fast-moving companies to areas with more robust networks — like the coasts.

In four short years, Pipeline has surprised many with the national network of partners who come to Kansas, roll up their sleeves, open their networks and evangelize for our Kansas entrepreneurs. This group of advocates includes representation from Microsoft, the National Institutes of Health, Silicon Valley Bank, MIT, as well as venture investors from San Francisco, Boston, Austin and Chicago — to name just a few.

This is what many call the "ripple effect" of Pipeline. By focusing on the top entrepreneurs, we actually build the networks for all entrepreneurs.

So what's next?

We begin our fifth year of Pipeline this week by welcoming our newest group of ambitious Kansas Innovators. We will do so surrounded by our local and national network, as well as our Innovator alumni and mentors. It is an exciting and important time, to be certain.

And while we are proud of the results and the national accolades, our main objective right now is to ensure our own state understands this value and supports Pipeline as a critical asset for the region's future.