Growing Entrepreneurial Communities Across America

Growing Entrepreneurial Communities Across America
Call it the largest focus group in entrepreneurship-led economic development. Building off the inaugural summit held in 2016, the second Growing Entrepreneurial Communities Summit (#GrowingEship), held on April 25 and 26, 2018, at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, explored innovative ways to build stronger and more inclusive economies through entrepreneurship.

The Growing Entrepreneurial Communities Summit is a practitioner-focused gathering designed to help economic development and small business practitioners effectively create economic growth through entrepreneurship in local communities.

This year’s summit, subtitled Entrepreneurship on the Edges, focused on providing information and practitioner insight in how to effectively develop disadvantaged urban and rural communities using entrepreneurship-led economic development strategies.

The objective: strengthen the field of entrepreneurship development and entrepreneurship ecosystem building across the nation.

This year’s summit attracted more than 200 participants from across the country, including representatives from academia, research facilities, foundations, economic developers, other practitioners and government. The first national Summit was held in 2016 with a capacity attendance of 220.

“We designed this conference as a practitioner summit,” said Dell Gines, senior community development adviser for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City – Omaha Office. “The intent is to build our national infrastructure of entrepreneurship-led economic development. The summit participants are the people in your community who work diligently and tireless every day to make sure the people in their communities have equal access to economic development and prosperity tools, not just for a certain segment of society, but for all. There are few things greater than that.”

The summit was a collaboration between the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas CityCenter for Rural EntrepreneurshipEdward Lowe FoundationNetWork Kansas and SourceLink.

The structure of the summit—snapshot sessions followed by deep dive peer discussions coupled with long networking breaks—allowed attendees to share and learn from others’ experience and expertise.

“As builders of entrepreneurial infrastructures, we have a common goal: to connect entrepreneurs to the resources they need to succeed,” said Maria Meyers, founder of KCSourceLink and SourceLink. “Over the past 15 years, communities have recognized what entrepreneurs can do to drive innovation, build talent and solve problems in our communities. We still have a long way to go to make leaders see entrepreneurial creation as one of the key pillars of economic development, alongside attraction and retention. Then the world—and our doers, dreamers and makers, the heart of the American spirit—will win.”

Key takeaways and common themes included:

Entrepreneurship on the Edges
Penny Lewandowski of the Edward Lowe Foundation 
Andy Stoll of the Kauffman Foundation 
Denisse Rodriguez of Colmena66 

  • Things have changed and now rural communities are becoming centers for entrepreneurial activity.
  • The most interesting stories and the greatest risks happen on the edges where people take risks.
  • No one geography has the monopoly on great ideas, they happen everywhere.
  • Networks are replacing hierarchies.
  • After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico’s Colmena66 talked directly with entrepreneurs to determine damages and needs. Colmena66 became hub for the entire ecosystem and served as a bridge from the entrepreneurs to the resources from power generators to grants to small interest loans.
  • Focus on what should be done and what your organization should do. Move quickly. Move together.

The Rural Edge
Erik Pedersen of NetWork Kansas
Pamela Bishop of Economic Development Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation
Brent Comstock of BCom Solutions, LLC

  • Meet a community where it is. One framework/plan may only work for one community.
  • Every community has these six assets: Individual, social, association, institution, physical, financial.
  • Isolation is a challenge and barrier for entrepreneurs.
  • Build sustainable initiatives, and resilient economic development systems in rural areas.
  • Entrepreneurial community should be defined by their culture

The Urban Edge
Rodney Sampson of Opportunity Hub
Lyneir Richardson of Rutgers University 
Henry Rael of McCune Charitable Foundation

  • Provide people of color with opportunities to explore, tinker, create and converse without recourse.
  • Create a council on inclusive action and put diverse people on the board.
  • Donate a building to inclusive ecosystem building organization.
  • Get capital to entrepreneur and urban neighborhoods
  • Every community of color needs a grocery store and restaurant.

Growing Entrepreneurial Communities Across America
View the full Summit photo album.

The conceptual overviews and practitioner insights were followed by 45-minute small group roundtable conversations, moderated by staff from the host organizations. These deep dive peer discussions allowed attendees to ask questions, share best practices and learn from each other. Table facilitators—there were 26 tables of about 6 to 8 attendees—recorded notes for each table. Those “focus group” results will guide and seed future conversations, best practices and white papers.

The second day of the summit offered Practitioner Best Practice Sessions, open, facilitated sessions that allowed entrepreneurial ecosystem builders to share best practices and thoughts such emerging topics as:


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