As part of my work in the state of Kansas, I've encountered a number of impressive real-life examples of steps communities are taking to increase connectivity to the 3 Es: education, expertise, and economic resources. Although these lessons are from Kansas, they could apply to any community. These examples have been sourced from the intentional activity undertaken by the 500+ member NetWork Kansas resource partner network and the 44 Kansas communities that participate in the Entrepreneurship Community Partnership.
Since every business matters and there are resources available for every business, there are some relatively simple steps to enhance the business community in Wichita. The most important is increase awareness of the resources already available. Of the NetWork Kansas statewide network of 505 partners, ten percent of them reside in the counties surrounding the metro-area: Sedgwick, Butler and Harvey. The density of resources in this metro-area is “low hanging fruit” for the city of Wichita. By working on ways to communicate to pre-venture, startups, and existing businesses the depth of resources surrounding them, Wichita can take a first step toward improving access to expertise that can help these businesses thrive. Don’t overlook these simple steps! It may sound basic, but lack of awareness of available resources is a common problem.
One of the best ways to begin to build an entrepreneurial culture in a community is through education. There are a variety of educational instruments that can begin influencing a more entrepreneurial cultural mindset at all ages. In Kansas, many communities, especially in the northwest corner of the state, operate high school business plan competitions. This year, NetWork Kansas has launched a pilot program, the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge to unite multiple northwest Kansas communities for a regional competition. Educational opportunities aren’t limited to students, however. The Kauffman Foundation has launched a variety of programs to help cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset, encourage startups, and generate entrepreneurial activity. Several NetWork Kansas E-Communities have implemented at least one of Kauffman’s programs, including Sterling, Salina, Hays, McPherson, Inman, Great Bend, Hoisington, and Lawrence. Finally, if an existing program doesn’t exist to meet the needs of a population, it can be built. Many of our rural communities cited problems providing hands-on knowledge for existing business owners. Wichita State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship created a program called Growing Rural Businesses where entrepreneurship instructors teach everything from marketing to financials over multiple weeks. This program has helped strengthen businesses in Augusta, Greensburg, and Dodge City.
In Kansas, a variety of programs provide matching loans and venture capital investments to the most significant job-generating businesses in any community: startups and existing businesses who are expanding. These funding programs don’t replace private capital; they support it, and have leveraged more than $200 million in private capital over the past 8 years. A strategy for leveraging existing funding programs will increase the effectiveness of any new program implemented by the city of Wichita and connect them to every capital source available. Whether in Kansas or beyond, knowing the full spectrum of available business funding opportunities – from public to private – and how to leverage them, is crucial to ongoing entrepreneurship success.
While these lessons are geared toward the metropolitan community of Wichita, Kansas, the advice applies to any community. Know your available expertise resources, educational programs, and available capital sources for entrepreneurs and work actively to generate awareness of them and create new options when existing ones are insufficient. Increasing the depth of entrepreneurship resources and building connections between them is the foundation for a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Content contributed by Steve Radley, NetWork Kansas. NetWork Kansas is a proud affiliate of U.S.SourceLink, America's largest resource network for entrepreneurs.