What began in 2005 as an effort to build a statewide network of resource partners to promote entrepreneurship has grown into a powerful new form of economic development. NetWork Kansas is truly building a culture of entrepreneurship in the state of Kansas—and right in the middle of America.
NetWork Kansas is demonstrating how entrepreneurship support fosters new business growth by helping new businesses start and grow, in urban centers and especially in rural communities. As the first statewide SourceLink® community, NetWork Kansas illustrates how a resource network can drive new economic development, within a community and across a state.
Today, NetWork Kansas’ 500+ partner network is so strong that Kansas entrepreneurs can easily access the resources from partners located in their home community or region. In rural areas of the state, NetWork Kansas has helped to create an active rural entrepreneurial culture and helped establish committed communities of support for the entrepreneurs in these parts of the state.
Bringing Resources to the Community
The NetWork Kansas team learned that bringing resources into a community is the best strategy to get partners to collaborate and take on bigger and bolder goals to serve the larger community.
Today, NetWork Kansas sponsors several signature programs. Yet, Steve Radley, NetWork Kansas president and CEO, emphasizes that while NetWork Kansas brought the funding and programs to the communities, the partner organizations administer all of the programs and loan funds.
The E-Community Partnership program allows a town or a county to raise seed money for local entrepreneurs through donations from individuals or businesses within the community. Communities are selected annually to:
- establish a locally administered revolving loan fund to assist entrepreneurs with capital
- increase connectivity to resources available to assist entrepreneurs and small businesses
- initiate activities to generate entrepreneurial development
- participate in a statewide partnership with other E-Communities
This program began in 2007 with six communities and has expanded to 59 communities across the state. New communities apply each year to become part of this pioneering program, which is why it is growing so effectively.
More than $8.1 million in local revolving loan funds has been raised, generating an estimated $45 million of investment in more than 300 businesses across Kansas.
Based on this experience, NetWork Kansas had the connections to quickly launch and expand the Kansas Economic Gardening Network. This program connects second-stage companies that have the capacity to grow their business with significant sophisticated technical assistance such as GIS, market research, SEO tools, social media monitoring, and sales lead generation. This program continues to grow by adding three to seven new communities each year.
Helping entrepreneurs and small business owners get access to funding for their enterprises is always a key driver. Network Kansas manages a number of funding opportunities available to Kansas business owners, with the E-Communities being one. Another initiative provides seed capital to entrepreneurs and small business owners in rural and distressed areas of Kansas. The Kansas Center for Entrepreneurship Tax Credit was created to stimulate this effort.
The funding that NetWork Kansas helps these communities access does not replace private capital. In fact, the programs are designed to support and leverage private capital through matching funds that provide much needed capital into startups and existing businesses that are expanding. During the past eight years, Network Kansas’ funding programs have leveraged more than $285 million and supported more than 590 businesses.
“These innovative towns and counties embody the key strategy to fundamental, long-term change,” Radley said. “The E-Community Partnership connects targeted resources to targeted entrepreneurs in a way that just wouldn’t happen without it. Empowered and led at the local level, E-Communities work every day to grow a flourishing, sustainable, entrepreneurial environment that supports startups and expansions of businesses in their community. The result is a community vision focused on using entrepreneurship as a primary tool for economic development.”
Building on a Strong Base
NetWork Kansas operates a robust, collaborative and effective statewide entrepreneurial ecosystem that is advancing entrepreneurship and business growth across Kansas. Entrepreneurs sing praises of how the courses, specialized technical assistance and/or access to capital have helped their business move to the next level.
The reason NetWork Kansas staff could launch and expand these programs so quickly is because they had developed strong working relationships with the resource partners through The Resource Navigator® network and are able to communicate their impact with reports they pull from the Biz-Trakker® ecosystem management tool. (Download their 2016 annual report.)
Through the SourceLink tools and processes, NetWork Kansas has built a very powerful entrepreneurial ecosystem in Kansas.
Sarah Mote is the marketing director at SourceLink. Sarah brings her experience as an entrepreneur, storyteller and content strategist to help shape the story of SourceLink and that of our affiliate communities.