How UMKC’s Free Enterprise Center Could Help KC Entrepreneurs

The University of Missouri-Kansas City will start work soon on its new Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center, a $14.8 million facility that will make 3D printers and other cutting-edge prototyping tools available to the wider community—including entrepreneurs.

The building will be located at the corner of Volker and Brookside boulevards—the university’s front door. Construction should start in either December or January, with doors opening in 18 months, said Kevin Truman, the dean of UMKC’s School of Computing and Engineering.

The university hosted a kickoff event for the center on Friday.

While Computing and Engineering is taking lead on the project, the Free Enterprise Center will have strong ties to the Bloch School of Management and its entrepreneurship programs. Plans include outreach to local high school students and companies, too.

The center could be especially useful for small to midsize companies that are thinking about investing in 3D printers and other tools, but need to “try before they buy.”

“We think we’re going to have a great facility with lots of activity,” Truman said.

Opening the Doors to the Community

UMKC already has a machine shop, but it’s open to the university only and the equipment is low- to mid-level. The Free Enterprise Center will have more than $500,000 worth of equipment, including 3D printers that are close to research-level, Truman said. Eventually, the center will be open 24-7, making it perfect for UMKC students who want to work around the clock.

Discussion about the center started about three years ago, when the Kauffman Foundation approached UMKC about opening a prototyping center capable of delivering pieces with a higher level of polish.

Half the funding for the project is coming from the Robert W. Plaster Foundation of Lebanon and the Kauffman Foundation, with the rest from the state.

“The Center will be an important new addition to our campus, of immense value to our students and our faculty, particularly in the Bloch School of Management, and the School of Computing and Engineering,” UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton said during Friday’s event. “But that’s just the beginning. Entrepreneurs from throughout our community will have access to the awesome technological capabilities of this center, and the extensive array of supports provided by the UMKC Innovation Center, including KCSourceLink.

“Young people from high school and even down to middle school will come here for inspiration, coaching and guidance. Our goal is to ignite their interest in careers in the vital fields of science, technology and engineering; and put them on the path to realizing those dreams.”

(photo: Daniel Galarza, a UMKC computing and engineering student, makes a deposit into a bank created by a 3D printer, as Donald L. Cupps, chairman of the board of curators of the University of Missouri System, and Mike Nietzel, senior policy adviser to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, watch. // photo by Janet Rogers, Strategic Marketing & Communications/UMKC)