By connecting entrepreneurs and small business owners with expertise, education, and economic resources, NetWork Kansas promotes an entrepreneurial environment throughout the state. Its initiatives to build assets and infrastructure include matching loans, educational courses, and a network of Entrepreneurship (E-) Communities that help local residents start and grow businesses. The network has grown to 66 E-Communities. Over the past 14 years, they 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 the financial assistance, e-communities play a large role in changing the way people think about entrepreneurship. NetWork Kansas utilizes the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program with some fantastic statewide results. Read a blog from their staff about the impacts the Program has had on their participants and communities.
As it undertook the expansion of an entrepreneurial environment across the state, NetWork Kansas provided economic resources (such as loan programs) and expertise (including a referral center for advice). However, many of the state’s residents weren’t familiar with an entrepreneurial mindset. They didn’t realize that an entrepreneurial approach could be applied to a wide range of problems. The perception that entrepreneurship required special skills or extensive knowledge limited residents from developing an entrepreneurial mindset—which in turn had the potential to limit their businesses’ success 10 to 15 years down the road.
In 2014, Network Kansas started offering Ice House classes from the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative. These experiential, problem-based learning programs empower learners by exposing them to entrepreneurial thinking. They help to develop skills in creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork.
“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,” said Kniep. In order to attract participants, the Ice House classes are often marketed as “business startup classes” and the entrepreneurial mindset concepts are introduced only after the classes begin.
“Overall we’ve had 33 classes take place with just shy of 400 Kansas entrepreneurs completing them,” Kniep said.
93% of the participants said the classes were helpful toward meeting their goals.
The start-ups that were born out of Ice House classes include a 6-acre urban farm growing organic vegetables, a fresh-cut flower shop that also offers home décor and gifts, and a home-based baker specializing in artisan-style breads and pasta. Also, 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.
In addition to the 12 certified facilitators within the e-commerce partnership, many people who’ve taken the Ice House classes have gone on to tell others about it. “We think this has been a huge factor in growing the entrepreneurial environment within Kansas,” Kniep said. “People are so thankful for what they’ve learned.”