What if you could get the answer to one question that could fundamentally change the trajectory of your startup. What if you could get insight into that next critical hurdle you can’t anticipate today? What would you ask? Who would you ask?
That’s the core tenet behind the Entrepreneur Roundtables at the Technology Venture Studio based in the UMKC Innovation Center. The entrepreneur roundtables are a place where like-minded founders come together to share lessons learned, strategize toward better outcomes and grow from one another’s successes—and learn from one another’s mistakes.
“Starting a new business can be isolating at times,” says Megan O’Rear, founder of Celerity Enterprises. “Being able to talk with peers with diverse but relevant experiences is an invaluable resource. The time together provides an objective sounding board where you can discuss challenges, concerns, opportunities and feel confident in the trust and guidance provided. It has been an absolute highlight of my month.”
What is an entrepreneur roundtable?
TVS’s Entrepreneur Roundtable is a group of six to 10 founders who meet monthly, in a confidential setting, to exchange lived experiences, critical challenges and ask great questions.
“Kansas City has a rich network of entrepreneurial resources that help founders and small business owners start, grow and accelerate businesses right here in Kansas City,” notes Jill Meyer, TVS’s senior director.
“But what we found, and especially during the pandemic, is that our founders lacked connections to each other. That’s what these roundtables provide: connection, support and camaraderie for our tech entrepreneurs.”
Building something new—a digital, IT, tech or innovative product or platform—is fraught with ambiguity. Founders can get transparency and clarity when they can connect with peers who have been-there or are doing-that.
Through peer-to-peer roundtable, founders can:
sharpen their visionary thinking
become a better, more knowledgeable business owners
make better informed, more strategic decisions
balance work, life and family
forecast issues facing their businesses
How entrepreneur roundtables support founders and startups
“The simple exercise of clarifying your position and the details of your situation to other founders, that alone leads to the proper self-awareness and solution," says Jeff Wigh, CEO and co-founder of Bryght Labs. Jeff has been participating in TVS’s Entrepreneur Roundtables since the summer of 2021.
The goals of the TVS entrepreneur roundtables are to help Kansas City startups and early-stage companies forge connections and relationships that will make them work more efficiently, become more strategic, find investors and follow-on funding, create more job opportunities and keep growing sustainable, innovative businesses right here in Kansas City.
At the Technology Venture Studio, we connect with hundreds of entrepreneurs, whether they’re looking to lead an innovation to market through Whiteboard 2 Boardroom, pitching for Digital Sandbox KC funding, attending a KCInvestEd Capital Conversation or seeking investment through Capital Match.
That level of engagement with our region’s tech entrepreneurs, from whiteboard innovation through early-stage startup (and beyond), gives us a bird’s-eye view of the technology entrepreneur ecosystem in Kansas City. Working with so many KC entrepreneurs in TVS gives us a unique opportunity to build connectivity between resources and between founders. We do that through our services, programs and especially through the TVS entrepreneur roundtables, where we curate those small groups of founders at a similar growth stage who can impact one another’s trajectory.
How we run the TVS entrepreneur roundtables
Roundtables are not a casual networking opportunity. They are tactical, grounded in a framework of experience-sharing versus advising.
Here, founders can bring their most pressing issues to a trusted group of peers. Those peers aren’t there to advise but to share their experiences and outcomes that resulted from navigating a similar situation. Those shared reference points are unique and hard to come by for a founder exploring new territory.
“Being surrounded by other CEOs who are on the same path has been super helpful,” added Nomi Smith, CEO and founder of PMI Rate Pro. “I feel energized after each meeting and walk away with new learnings from each of our peers.
“More importantly, our group holds safe space for me to talk about the challenges I or my company is facing, and they each give their advice from their experience and perspectives,” she continues. “Additionally, the members also make additional referrals and help us expand our network. I love how much our group gives to one another in the form of support and guidance.”
What to look for in an entrepreneur roundtable
Roundtables build trust among their members, and founders learn to lean on each other for unbiased feedback. For many, the relationships they forge through an entrepreneur roundtable are the most trusted sources of experience when building their business.
Here are some other tips to consider as you look for—or create—your own entrepreneur roundtable:
Narrow the group by growth stage.
To be relevant in experience sharing, you have to be dealing with, or have recently dealt with, similar business issues. The broader the spectrum, i.e. one person is launching a first product and another is scaling a team internationally, the harder it is to be relevant to one another and to avoid “advice giving.” Build a cohort of founders at the same or similar growth stages of business.
No rotating team members.
We are often asked if co-founders can both take part or take turns participating: The answer is always “no.” These groups are about building trust between the people that show up every month. You can’t build trust and continuity if a different group of people is involved each month.
It takes time to build trust. Ask roundtable members to commit to the process for a length of time and at a consistent frequency. At TVS, we meet monthly and ask founders to commit to the entrepreneur roundtable for a year. Often the groups chose to continue to meet beyond the first year.
Communicate the value.
For most founders, time is their most precious resource. Help participants understand the value—and growth, revenue, customers, traction, potential investors and partnerships—that can come from taking time to not just work IN their business but also work ON their business.
Beware of advice givers.
Entrepreneur roundtables are about shared experiences, not about telling founders what they should or shouldn’t do. The process isn’t for everyone, so make sure to look for participants who understand and are willing to own the roundtable process.
Interested in learning more about how to get involved in a TVS entrepreneur roundtable? Contact Chris Rehkamp at email@example.com.