Five KC startups find home, validation in Techstars 2021 class; Up next: new markets

Five KC startups find home, validation in Techstars 2021 class; Up next: new markets


Joining the latest class of Techstars Kansas City is expected to help startups like afloat scale what’s worked in Kansas City into other markets, said Sarah-Allen Preston, founder of a KC gift-sending app that connects users’ social circles, communities, and businesses.

Sarah-Allen Preston, afloat

“Being selected for Techstars is a great validation for afloat’s momentum after a year of testing our product market fit with our fantastic users and stores in Kansas City,” said Preston, who launched the startup in early 2020. “We are excited to get to be in the Techstars network as we continue to enhance our product and platform to bring users together with local businesses for gifting, and grow to new markets.”

afloat was one of five Kansas City tech startups tapped to join the latest 10-company Techstars Kansas City class — beneficiaries of a 13-week accelerator program, which begins this week with two weeks in person, followed by virtual programming and a return to face-to-face meetings later in the summer. A demo day is planned for Sept 2.

Other local companies in the class include PMI Rate Pro, one of Startland News’ Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2021, a current Pipeline fellow, and a winning 2020 Pure Pitch Rally pitcher; myANIML, an AI-based ag-tech startup led by serial entrepreneur Shekhar Gupta; PlaBook, an edtech veteran of LaunchKC and OHUB.KC competitions; and Telememory, a KCK startup that seeks to stimulate long-term memory recall in patients.

It is super meaningful to have a good showing of Kansas City companies,” said Maria Flynn, managing director of Techstars Kansas City. “We have promising companies here at home.”

Like afloat, PMI Rate Pro got its start in 2020 — seeing its team and revenue traction grow even before being selected for the class, said co-founder Nomi Smith, eager to discover what the next phase of her startup looks like after experiencing the full Techstars program.

“We are so excited to catapult our growth with the help of Techstars and we think our company will learn and come out much stronger on the other end,” she said. “We believe Techstars will help us get connected to mentors, clients and investors we wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. We are excited to learn from experienced leaders who have been in our shoes before.”

Members of the 2021 class also hail from cities across the East Coast, as well as Sante Fe, New Mexico, she added, noting the diversity of backgrounds represented in the class; four of the companies are led by women CEOs.

Techstars Kansas City Accelerator class of 2021:

  • afloat, Kansas City (Sarah-Allen Preston) — A gifting marketplace that connects trusted networks to the local businesses they love.


  • AlgenAir, Baltimore (Kelsey Abernathy) — The first natural air purifier that reduces CO2 using an algae subscription service.


  • BuckUp, Baltimore (Shoheb Punjani) — Instant short-term loans, collateralized by users’ devices for $1 a day.


  • myAnIML, Overland Park (Shekhar Gupta) — Animal disease management through the power of artificial intelligence.


  • GoodRoads, Charlotte, North Carolina (Chris Sunde) — Solves the aging roads crisis by providing data-driven solutions to communities.


  • Gradient Health, Durham, North Carolina (Ouwen Huang) — AI for medical imaging diagnostics, including the necessary infrastructure and computer vision models for our hospitals, researchers, and CROs to be part of the $20 billion future.


  • PlaBook, Kansas City (Dr. Philip Hickman) — Automated teacher platform addresses reading disparities through artificial intelligence, natural language processing and speech recognition.


  • PMI Rate Pro, Overland Park (Nomi Smith) — Helping mortgage loan officers shop and compare private mortgage insurance for homebuyers that put less than 20 percent down to buy a home.


  • NeuroGeneces, Santa Fe, New Mexico (Karen Crow) — Improves your memory while you sleep.


  • Telememory, Kansas City, Kansas (Eliot Arnold) — Memory health platform connecting seniors and their families to personalized cognitive care.


Furthering Techstars’ mission of helping entrepreneurs succeed, the program is expected to focus on mentoring, applying key learnings to each company’s specific needs, and investor readiness. 

Maria Flynn, Orbis Biosciences

Maria Flynn, Techstars Kansas City

“The cohort will dive deep into their revenue formula, product roadmap, and financials to emerge as stronger companies having tested their hypothesis and assumptions in the program,” continued Flynn, the founder of the now-exited Kansas City startup Orbis. “We will dedicate considerable time into our communication of their businesses for investor readiness.”

myAnIML’s Gupta already is impressed by the Techstars team’s knowledge and ability to help his startup gain exposure and improve selling and marketability, he said.

“I’m looking forward to launching our product with Techstars’ help,” Gupta said. “Being selected for the class validates our business and that the industry believes what we are doing is worthwhile.”

Validation was a common theme among the Kansas City companies — echoed by Arnold at Telememory, who lauded the Techstars team led by Flynn and Lesa Mitchell, who now serves as Techstars general manager of the Americas and still plays an active role in the Kansas City accelerator.

“The clarity of focus provided by Lesa and the mentors that we have been able to talk to has already been incredible for both our company and our product,” Arnold said. “The experience has been much better than business school. Techstars curriculum is mature and proven. It is hard.”

Flynn is thrilled to welcome a group of entrepreneurs with such an eagerness to work on their businesses and an urgency to bring their products to market, the Techstars leader said.

“Knowing the importance of peer support through my own company’s journey, I am most excited for these entrepreneurs to find support in each other as we work together to build incredible companies,” Flynn said. “Earmark these companies and watch for their compounded success.”

This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that seeks to build inclusive prosperity through a prepared workforce and entrepreneur-focused economic development. The Foundation works to change conditions, address root causes, and break down systemic barriers so that all people – regardless of race, gender, or geography – have the opportunity to achieve economic stability, mobility, and prosperity. 

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