SourceLink + The IEDC: New Certification Program Uniting Economic Developers and Entrepreneurs

The last two years have witnessed a boom in entrepreneurial activity like never before.

According to 2021 data from the Census Bureau, Americans filed paperwork to start 4.3 million businesses last year in spite of the economic recession — a 24 percent uptick from the previous year, and the most in a decade and a half, according to The New York Times.

Now more than ever, entrepreneurs and small business owners require support from economic developers driving local economies forward. The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) and SourceLink® have partnered to deliver a solution — a certification course focused on educating economic developers with entrepreneurship-led economic development.

The Entrepreneurship Development Professional (EDP) certification

Jeff FinkleDeveloped with support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), a new professional certification was created for the field in partnership with SourceLink while hosted and credentialed by the IEDC.

“We want to see economic development agencies play a larger role in the entrepreneurship space,” said IEDC President and CEO Jeff Finkle. “That is, in whole, why we started to pursue the development of a certification program with an appropriate curriculum, which SourceLink helped us to build, and which numerous others have played a role in supporting.”

The genesis for the development of the certification came from this recognized gap for economic development practitioners and grassroots ecosystem builders alike. Early conversations between NetWork Kansas, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, Change at the Edges and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City provided the roots of the idea, and each organization contributed tremendous insight into the development of the final curriculum.

Additionally, the topic of certification commonly came up during the ESHIP Summit events hosted by the Kauffman Foundation and was one of the key resulting goals from that important work.

A partnership to champion entrepreneurs

lewandowski_medThe partnership between SourceLink and the IEDC was one that organically developed from the collective understanding that economic developers need and deserve more resources to assist entrepreneurship-led development within the local and national economy.

Penny Lewandowski, who has worked closely alongside SourceLink through her own business, Change at the Edges, has served on the board for the IEDC for five years. Previously a Vice President at the Edward Lowe Foundation for 13 years, she has been instrumental in helping bring the EDP certification course to fruition.

“This credential is the first of its kind to offer economic developers the knowledge and the tools to build entrepreneurship-led ecosystems,” Lewandowski said. “The events of the pandemic showed more than ever that the connection between entrepreneurship and economic development is imperative, and this curriculum really helps bring entrepreneurs to the forefront.”

What does EDP certification look like?

Maria MeyersThe EDP certification process involves courses in entrepreneurial development and a two-part exam. The courses, two of which are authored by SourceLink, cover a variety of topics regarding entrepreneurship-led economic development, including electives like neighborhood development strategies, tech-led economic development, business retention and expansion, and economic development finance programs.

“An EDP certification demonstrates that economic developers have a strong understanding of how to build an entrepreneurial community,” said Maria Meyers, SourceLink’s founder and executive director.

“Entrepreneurs and small businesses are a significant part of economic development that many have only just begun to realize the true importance of. Receiving an EDP certification demonstrates that economic developers have the skills and expertise to work closely with entrepreneurs.”

The future of economic development is through entrepreneurship

The EDP certification course is the byproduct of a much larger goal, one shared by many in the field: to sustainably accelerate entrepreneurship-led economic development and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems all across the country.

The work starts with creating a pipeline of economic developers who are educated, trained and certified to work closely with entrepreneurs and innovators.

“We anticipate that we will be growing more courses to support this new certification that we’ve created,” Finkle said. “What we hope is that we’ll train more and more economic developers who see that this program is important and meaningful.”

Join the national conversation

From October 2-6, the IEDC will host its annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee and virtually. You can drop in for Maria Meyers’ panel discussion, “Creating Vibrant and Inclusive Entrepreneurship Ecosystems” at 10:30am on Monday, Oct. 4, and we hope you will stop by the SourceLink booth j621 to learn more about the certification and our work. Click here to register.  If you’re interested in learning about becoming EDP-certified, visit the IEDC’s website for more information.

SourceLink is here to help you connect to resources and to build an effective and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem. Contact us at [email protected] to learn more, and check back here for more information as we continue to post updates on the EDP certification program.