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Kansas City Chiefs Look For Big Win — In Startup Investing

Photo of Kansas City, Missouri, downtown.

Kansas City, Missouri, may have BBQ and jazz, but it still has a relatively small startup ecosystem when it comes to venture investment.

The Heart of America’s tech scene can’t quite match the startup environment of its Super Bowl counterpart Philadelphia. Last year, VC-backed startups in KC raised just under $160 million in about two dozen funding rounds, according to Crunchbase data. In 2021, that number was only $70 million in 27 rounds.

Unlike the City of Brotherly Love, which has a robust startup scene around sectors like life sciences and fintech, KC’s is still a little more eclectic. The largest round in 2022 was a $90 million venture round to mobile transaction and payment PayIt.

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However, the second biggest went to restaurant chain Hawaiian Bros Island Grill (probably not what you expected) which saw a $25 million private equity round.

Big-name investors

While the KC startup scene may still be finding its legs, a trio of the Super Bowl-bound Kansas City Chiefs themselves are immersed into the startup tech environment — unsurprisingly mainly investing in tech that involves health, nutrition and e-sports.

The player who leads that charge is none other than personality-laden, all-world tight end Travis Kelce.

Per Crunchbase, the big-time pass catcher’s investments include Mexico City-based fantasy sports platform Draftea as well as Irvine, California-based, vapor-distilled alkaline water startup ZenWtr, and Park City, Utah-based bakery company Kodiak Cakes. Kelce also is an investor in Cambridge, Massachusetts-based connected indoor rowing machine developer Hydrow, which has raised more than $300 million to date.

The guy who will be throwing the ball to Kelce on Sunday — Patrick Mahomes — also has his own small portfolio. The former NFL MVP is an investor in Irvine-based recovery and movement enhancement startup HyperIce, as well as Boston-based Whoop.

Whoop’s platform tracks an athlete’s recovery, training and even sleeping hours to help boost their performance. The company has raised more than $400 million, and received a $3.6 billion valuation after its $200 million Series F in 2021.

Lastly, another of Mahomes’ favorite targets — wideout and social media star JuJu Smith-Schuster — is no stranger to the investment world. The slot receiver has invested in San Mateo, California-based fantasy league and eSports platform Sleeper, Germany-based e-sports data analysis startup Grid Esports, and Los Angeles-based skin care product company Art of Sport.

While Kansas City’s startup scene cannot match Philly’s — which saw investors pour more than $2.5 billion into venture and growth rounds for local companies since the start of last year — its football team seems very much interested in the venture world.

And although its startup scene is smaller than its Super Bowl opponent, that does not mean it can’t win on Sunday.

Photo: Stephen Edmonds, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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