February 23, 2021

NetWork Kansas Builds Entrepreneurial Thinking Through E-Communities

e-commerce revenue on a laptop
By: Sarah Williamson


All across Kansas, residents are taking a deep dive into entrepreneur-led development thanks to NetWork Kansas and its E-Commerce Programs. 

Over the past 14 years, 66 e-communities have been established in the state’s 105 counties, providing $21.5 million to businesses and leveraging an additional $99.2 million (via bank loans, owner down payments, resource partner loans, and more). In addition to financial assistance, e-communities have played a significant role in changing how people think about entrepreneurship.

“A lot of people don’t understand what entrepreneurship is—they don’t know the deeper meaning of what goes into it and have never heard that there is a mindset to it,” explained Amara Kniep, the Manager of E-Community Programs at NetWork Kansas. “To someone who’s just starting out, having the mindset to be successful will be a factor in whether they’re still in business 10 to 15 years down the road.” 

The Role of Ice House Classes

Ice House classes are part of a suite of educational resources NetWork Kansas offers to its e-communities. The nonprofit’s board carefully vets each program, ensuring they align with best practices for starting and growing a business. 

“We’ve been offering Ice House classes since 2014, and overall we’ve had 33 classes take place with just shy of 400 Kansas entrepreneurs completing them,” Kniep said. Ninety-three percent of the participants said the classes were helpful in meeting their goals. 

“The reason we’re so passionate about the program is because of the foundational piece where it helps build the entrepreneurial mindset within a community,” she said. 

The start-ups that resulted from the Ice House classes include a six-acre urban farm growing organic vegetables, a fresh-cut flower shop that also offers home décor and gifts, a home-based baker specializing in artisan-style bread and pasta, and a coffee shop at the back of a drugstore, which was started by one of the employees at the invitation of the store’s owners.

There are 12 certified facilitators within the e-commerce partnership. Many of the people who’ve taken the Ice House classes have gone on to offer it within their local areas. “We think this has been a huge factor in growing the entrepreneurial environment within Kansas,” Kniep said.

Economics, expertise, and education

NetWork Kansas was established in 2004 by the state legislature and continues to operate under the Kansas Department of Commerce. This indicates the state’s commitment to supporting residents in starting and growing businesses. 

“Our statewide operations focus around our referral center, a free service open to the public for those who want advice on starting or growing a business,” Kniep said. Residents can also access loan funds through NetWork Kansas. These funds act as a revolving loan fund that’s controlled at the local level through leadership teams and financial review boards. 

Another NetWork Kansas program is the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. It was created to build an entrepreneurial mindset among middle and high school students. Several of the certified Ice House facilitators have been offering classes to students to complement the YEC program. 

Kniep said that no matter the age or background of participants, the positive response to Ice House lessons is universal. “I’ve seen the class in practice many, many times throughout the state, and I’ve seen first-hand how big an impact it has had on residents,” she said. “People are so thankful for what they’ve learned.”

And what they’ve learned will help ensure that their businesses are still operating successfully across Kansas 10 or 15 or more years in the future.