Plug and Play selects KC startup for Topeka accelerator; Top City beginning to believe in itself

Heidi Lehmann, Kenzen

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Plug and Play Topeka is back, Lindsay Lebahn said, announcing the accelerator program’s second cohort of startups — including a surging Kansas City company — and revealing ways the effort has redefined the definition of entrepreneurship in the Sunflower State’s epicenter.

Lindsay Lebahn, Plug and Play Animal Health and AgTech Accelerator

Lindsay Lebahn, Plug and Play Animal Health and AgTech Accelerator

“Realistic expectations of Topeka have changed,” explained Lebahn, program manager and a key player in bringing the San Francisco-based accelerator’s presence to Topeka two years ago.

“Topeka is really starting to believe in Topeka. … I think a lot of that [has to do with the] revitalization of downtown. We’ve had a lot of things happen throughout the years, but they would happen in pockets,” she continued, highlighting the efforts of GO Topeka to establish an innovation hub and center near and along Kansas Avenue — and a massive opportunity for connectivity in Shawnee County that comes with it.

“Things were happening, but not necessarily in a centralized location. Unless you lived in that area or visited that area, you didn’t really notice it and didn’t really feel it … but this revitalization of downtown has really helped the momentum of Topeka and I think Topekans are now starting to realize that there’s stuff to do here, there’s opportunities.”

Having successfully launched its first cohort virtually earlier this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Plug and Play welcomed 10 new startups into its animal health program last month. Among them, Kansas City-based Kenzen — a biometric platform and maker of a workplace safety, smart patch that monitors heat, fatigue and over exertion on the job.

Click here to learn more about Kenzen in a Startland News special report, broadcast in partnership with Bank of America. 

Heidi Lehmann, president, CCO and co-founder of Kenzen, right, speaks with Channa Steinmetz, Startland News reporter, and Joshua Lewis, founder of UpDown Nightlife, during the 2021 VC-Backed Companies Special Report

Additional participants, chosen by founding partners of the Plug and Play Topeka program Cargill, Evergy, and Hills Pet Nutrition, include: Aegis Packaging, Singapore; Birdstop, San Francisco, California; ISO Thrive, Manassas, VA; Lumin, Charlottesville, Virginia; Maven, Portugal; Nanox, Newton, Massachusetts; Pepperai, New York, New York; Sniffypet; Calgary, Alberta; and Tarot Analytics, Paris, France.

“It’s more than just animal health,” Lebahn said of the cohort and the problems they’re working to solve.

“We’ve seen a lot more [companies tackling] sustainability [and] workforce issues with COVID changing everything. Our partners are really looking to make sure that they are doing everything they can for their company and to make sure that they’re the top of the line, they’ve got the newest, latest, greatest technology.”

Less than a month into the program, current cohort companies have already received interest from venture firms who’ve participated in the program — just one result of Plug and Play’s intentional, cross-vertical programming and events, which see frequent collaboration with its North Dakota-based agtech accelerator and its Silicon Valley-based food-focused program.

Nine nondisclosure agreements have been signed between startups and corporations involved in the first program, Lebahn added, indicating there’s power in the program and its setup.

Click here for a full description of each startup or here to learn more about the Plug and Play Topeka program and past participants. 

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