Best Practices

NetWork Kansas: Supporting Entrepreneurs in Your Backyard

Published May 02, 2013 by

 

I will admit it – I was an initial skeptic. “Economic gardening” sounded like a scheme to mass-produce tomatoes in your backyard. To begin with, it wasn’t local. How could out-of-town consultants offer value to my local businesses, I wondered, especially when its emphasis on supporting “homegrown” ventures reminded me more of a neighborhood club than an economic engine. But, the idea of supporting existing businesses and growing them from “good to great” resonated with me, and from my experience with economic development, I knew offering resources to high-growth businesses was often a weak area for communities. Did economic gardening have the potential to grow a bumper crop of entrepreneurs?

 

The best way to answer a question is to perform a good experiment. NetWork Kansas did just that in 2010, launching the Kansas Economic Gardening Network as a pilot program to try out the concept of supporting 2nd stage growth companies with high-fidelity marketing assistance. Each business enrolled was given 35-40 hours of time with a national team of experts in the fields of market research, new media, and geographic information systems (GIS). No funds were provided directly to the businesses; this was purely technical assistance. In all, approximately 30 businesses completed engagements with NetWork Kansas.

The results have been incredible. Aggregate annual revenues jumped 26% the next year after the engagements, and full-time employment increased 29%.  (That’s a lot of tomatoes!)  Qualitative measures were also impressive; company CEOs could directly correlate deliverables such as target customer lists and website improvements to increases in business activity.

I have been won over. Seeing economic gardening in action converted me into an enthusiastic believer. Those that have seen me present about NetWork Kansas programs know when I get to economic gardening, my eyes light up and my arms start flailing! (See the video proof) What other economic development program can be part of creating a full-time job for less than $1,000? (Our pilot results showed an expenditure of $678 in public funds per job created.)

While many resources are important to creating successful businesses, the technical assistance offered through economic gardening programs has proven to be a startlingly effective way to support entrepreneurs – not unlike applying fertilizer to a garden. The garden may grow on its own, but with a little extra help, it thrives. Don’t our entrepreneurs deserve the same opportunity?

Learn more about economic gardening at the national level by visiting the Edward Lowe Foundation. Or, contact Corey Mohn by e-mailing cmohn@networkkansas.com to learn more about the Kansas program.

 

Content contributed by Corey Mohn, NetWork Kansas. NetWork Kansas is a proud affiliate of US Sourcelink, America's largest resource network for entrepreneurs.