UMKC receives $7.4 million state match to build free enterprise incubator

UMKC receives $7.4 million state match to build free enterprise incubator

The University of Missouri-Kansas City on Tuesday received $7.4 million in state funding for a new center that will serve UMKC business and engineering students, area schoolchildren and others.

Gov. Jay Nixon came to the college’s main campus to announce the funding for the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center, to be built on a site occupied by a vacant structure at 215 Volker Blvd., behind the Russell Stover headquarters.

The $14.8 million center will include lab and instructional space and state-of-the-art technology such as 3-D printers.

UMKC already had raised $7.4 million in private donations from the Kauffman Foundation and the Robert W. Plaster Foundation, an educational foundation in Lebanon, Mo., that promotes free enterprise.

The UMKC center is one of six construction projects at schools across Missouri for which the state plans to provide matching funds this month.

“The Free Enterprise Center at UMKC will provide greater opportunities for creativity and collaboration among students, faculty and businesses and strengthen the Kansas City region’s position as a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship,” Nixon said.

UMKC’s School of Computing and Engineering and its business school, the Henry W. Bloch School of Management, will use the building as a laboratory, incubator and prototyping center. The center also will be available for use by businesses, entrepreneurs and artists.

Schoolchildren will use the center through the KC STEM Alliance, which reaches more than 13,000 middle and high school students in the Kansas City area working on projects in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math. The projects involve robotics, advanced manufacturing, science and engineering.

UMKC Enactus students — formerly Students in Free Enterprise — will work with schoolchildren on the business and marketing aspects of technology and manufactured products and projects, university officials said in a statement.

“I’m excited,” said Steve Green, superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools. “Who knows what will bloom when our young people are set free like this? They will create jobs we don’t even know exist yet.”

Peter deSilva, president of UMB Financial Corp., was among those who worked to raise money for the center. He said it will be “a gathering place” where ideas can be shaped, where people with money can connect with innovators and where innovators can build a prototype to take to the marketplace.

“There is nothing like that in Kansas City,” deSilva said. “We are not going to take new businesses and house them here. It is not a place where businesses can be run.”

UMKC chancellor Leo Morton said the center will support education and economic development.

“It will help entrepreneurs, inventors and small business be more successful in their ventures,” he said. “And students from middle school to graduate school will get a firsthand taste of entrepreneurship and become grounded in the discipline of innovation.”

Story by Mara Rose Williams, KC Star