Superfast Internet makes a Kansas City neighborhood a hot spot for startups

Lauren Blanchard takes a look at a house that connects hackers with high-speed Internet


Innovators attracted by a high-speed connection are flocking to a startup village in Kansas City, turning this Midwestern city into a tech hub.

Google Fiber, high-speed Internet almost 100 times faster than what most Americans use, was installed in Kansas City back in 2012. It is drawing in innovators from across the world and has become a hotspot, not only for the high-speed connection, but also for the close proximity of other entrepreneurs and startups.  One cluster of companies, called the Kansas City Startup Village (KCSV), has workspaces located within a few blocks of each other. It looks like a regular neighborhood with trees and quiet streets, except for the red flags outside the homes housing the tech startups. 

One five bedroom house in the neighborhood is called The Hacker House. It has a white front porch and creaky stairs. It’s outfitted with 18 Ethernet cables throughout the various rooms, allowing hackers to plug-in almost anywhere, except the bathroom. The owner of the house, Benjamin Barreth, said that’s the only room where they don’t encourage people to log on. Four of the rooms are reserved for entrepreneurs and startups who apply for a three-month program to stay in the village rent-free.

One room is reserved for people who want to check out the area or just use the Internet.

Barreth, who also founded the Homes 4 Hackers program, calls the visitors “fiber tourists.”

They can book the room for $39 on weekdays or $49 on weekends using Airbnb. "I put the room up on Airbnb on a whim. Right away we had people booking the room," says Barreth. It quickly fills up and is completely booked through the summer. The money from the Airbnb room goes towards costs of maintaining the house. According to Barreth, many of the people who book the Airbnb room are primarily making the trip to Kansas City in order to check out Google Fiber.

The Hacker House is one way for people outside the community to get to know the area and get connected in the KCSV.

Barreth says the high-speed Internet helps draw in tech startups and makes it ideal for innovators developing new apps and products, but the supportive community and the close accommodations keep them there. The hostel-like feel encourages the occupants to get to know each other and exchange ideas. 

"It was one way we could help build the startup community here in Kansas City, one way we could bring more tech talent to 'KC,' help put 'KC' on the map," said Barreth.

Matthew Marcus is a co-leader of the Kansas City Startup Village. He tries to meet the entrepreneurs visiting the Hacker House and get them involved in the startup village. The hope is the entrepreneurs will want to return to Kansas City and bring their ideas with them.

"We certainly wouldn't have had the success we've had today without Google Fiber," said Marcus.  

He said Google Fiber helped put them on the map as a destination for tech startups.

"Entrepreneurs can come here, base their startup, and receive the mentorship or advice from other entrepreneurs," said Marcus.

Fabrizio Filippini is staying at the Hacker House with his startup entrepreneur team. They are working on FitBark, a collar that tracks the fitness levels of pets.

"It's been very nice, very soft way to get introduced to Kansas City," said Filippini.

The FitBark team is now looking at moving their operation to the KCSV. For Barreth and Marcus, this is exactly what they wanted.

Kansas City is one of only two cities in the country with Google Fiber, the other is Provo, Utah. Google may expand to Austin, Texas next.