The future of entrepreneurship in economic development: An update on the EDP certification

Last year, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) supported the development of a new professional certification for the field in partnership with SourceLink and the International Economic Development Council. The Entrepreneurship Development Professional (EDP) certification course is a first-of-its-kind accreditation that offers knowledge and tools for developing and implementing entrepreneurship-led economic development strategies.

On the heels of IEDC’s Economic Development Week on May 9-13, 2022 and one year since the EDP certification was deployed, we think it’s timely to provide an update on its impact so far and where we see the field of entrepreneurship-led economic development headed. 


Why was the EDP certification created?

Small companies create more than 1.5 million jobs annually in the United States, which translates to 64 percent of total new job growth. Even though entrepreneurs contribute significantly to local and national economic health, many economic developers and community leaders still don’t know how best to support them.

The genesis for the development of the certification came from this gap in resources for understanding and implementing successful entrepreneurship-led development strategies that support entrepreneurs in starting and growing businesses that drive equitable, economic growth. There was also a recognized need for education on the role economic developers can play in supporting opportunities to increase wealth in communities of color, where inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystems are a core element of citywide economic development efforts. The certification development team put an emphasis on issues of race, weaving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) elements into the curriculum in an effort to broaden the base of economic development professionals trained in supporting diverse entrepreneurs.

What kind of impact has the new curriculum had in the first year?

Since the Entrepreneurship-led Economic Development curriculum and new EDP certification launched in April of 2021:

  • IEDC has had more than 475 enrollments for its ELED courses.
  • 16 people have achieved the Entrepreneurship Development Professional certification.
  • IEDC has offered each of the two courses – Introduction to Entrepreneurship-Led Economic Development; and Accelerating Growth Through Entrepreneurship-Led Economic Development – four times. 

What are participants saying about the curriculum?

The ELED courses can not only benefit economic developers, but anyone interested in advancing equity and community wealth building, and course participants are not required to sit for the certification. Hear what people have to say about both becoming EDP certified and gaining more education on ELED strategies.

Brett Doney, CEcD, EDP, FM

President & CEO – Great Falls (Montana) Development Authority

“Earning the EDP credential sent a strong signal to my team, board, partners, and investors that I am personally invested in significantly increasing our support work for current and future entrepreneurs. We now have several additional team members starting the EDP credential process.”

Courtney Zaugg, EDP

Founder – Plaka + Associates

“In my journey as both an entrepreneur and an economic development consultant, I deeply understand the importance of investing in long-term entrepreneurship strategies to support sustainable and equitable economic growth. The EDP credential elevates the importance of entrepreneurship as an economic development strategy and brings another level of prominence to the overall profession.”

Alejandro Manzanares

Senior Program Manager – The Aspen Institute Latinos and Society (AILAS) Program

“In my current role, I am pleasantly forced to add more intentionality and complexity to entrepreneurship-led interventions due to the uniqueness of the Latino business community (e.g. culture, language, financial barriers/starting point, etc.). Taking the Introduction to Entrepreneurship-Led Economic Development course helped me make further cases on the value of ELED economic development and most importantly, how to do it in an inclusive way. It has also allowed me to gain a better understanding of how other cities have approached this work and leveraged their unique assets to build ELED infrastructure.”

What does the future of entrepreneurship-led economic development hold?

In his new role as President and CEO of IEDC, Nathan Ohle is excited about IEDC’s efforts in entrepreneurship-led economic development and here are his thoughts on what’s next. 

Tell us about the importance of the EDP certification and entrepreneurship-led economic development curriculum.

“Entrepreneurship is a key economic driver for communities across the country, from rural to urban, and everywhere in between. Too often, the efforts of what many see as traditional economic development strategies – attracting companies, offering incentives, business retention and expansion – could be better aligned with the community’s various entrepreneurship efforts. Since entrepreneurs are often independent self-starters, it’s easy to assume that entrepreneurship in your community is just going to happen. The reality is that entrepreneurs will best succeed when economic developers support the entrepreneurship systems within their community—or help to build these systems if they don’t exist. The more that economic developers are making a concerted and intentional effort to support strategies to bolster entrepreneurship and the more they’re building their entrepreneurship ecosystems, the stronger their communities will be.”
How does this fit into general economic development activities/strategies?
“The EDP certification program established support for entrepreneurs as a fundamental, foundational part of economic development, but there’s more work to do. We need to not only attract wealth, but build wealth in our communities. This is both a paradigm and a set of tactics for communities. The entrepreneurial ecosystem goes beyond economic developers to the many educational, support services, business and other partners in the ecosystem. This is a shift in economic development approaches in some ways, but in reality, it’s just an expansion of the role that economic developers have always embraced. Economic developers are starting to understand how they can better support entrepreneurial ecosystems, but there’s still work to do to ensure that entrepreneurship-led economic development is a bigger piece of the economic development puzzle.”

Tell us about the next phase of the certification or the IEDC’s role in advancing small business and entrepreneur support initiatives in the future.

“Moving forward, IEDC will be expanding the audience for ELED courses by going deeper into its own base of economic development professionals, and connecting with and building relationships with others focused on this important work. EDP is just a part of IEDC’s ELED platform – we will continue to lead a conversation about ELED through conference sessions, peer exchanges, thought leadership and other channels. I want to make sure we stay engaged with the people who have taken the courses to learn from how they’re using the skills they gained, what impact they’re having in their communities, what they need that we’ve not offered through the coursework and certification, and how we can constantly iterate and improve upon our ELED efforts.”

In terms of the future, Nathan shared that IEDC is looking at how to create additional impact in small business and entrepreneurship support, outside of their courses. Three main focus areas include:

  • Partnering with organizations doing good work and investigating what sort of strategic relationships can be strengthened, and how that may help IEDC reach new audiences.

  • Making entrepreneurship more front and center at IEDC’s conferences, to make sure the economic development audience is exposed to the key aspects of how to build strong entrepreneurship ecosystems in their communities.

  • Investigating ways in which IEDC can actually work on-the-ground with economic development leaders to help them build out their ecosystems, and continue to build the connections between practitioners.

For more information about the history on the EDP certification, check out IEDC’s introductory webinar. The next ELED courses will be offered June 21-23, 2022 – visit the IEDC website to learn more.

Join the national conversation

June 12-14, IEDC will host the Economic Future Forum in Richardson, Texas, and entrepreneurship will be at the forefront of the agenda. Join Maria Meyers for The Importance of Entrepreneurship-Led Economic Development, and Dara Macan for Lightning Talks: A Vision for the Future of Rural Development. Click here to register.

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.