Diverse entrepreneurs forge shared growth journeys through NXTUS program
Second NXSTAGE Customer Traction Cohort Prepares for Graduation
By NetWork Kansas
New connections can lead to major business opportunities.
Those connections are a core component of NXTUS’ NXTSTAGE Customer Traction Cohort, an 8-week program for early-stage Kansas companies with products in the market and some revenue. By focusing on product-market fit, improving customer acquisition, identifying growth solutions and accelerating revenue possibilities, the Customer Traction Cohort has become an in-demand entrepreneurship support program in just its second year. Thanks to sponsorship from NetWork Kansas, companies in southwest Kansas have been able to join Wichita and northeast Kansas entrepreneurs in the most recent cohort, which graduates March 15.
“I was highly impressed with how diverse the environment was and by just how many different types of businesses were represented,” said Lea Ann Seiler, Manager, Entrepreneurship Southwest Region, NetWork Kansas. “It was very interesting watching the interactions, not only between rural and urban organizations, but also all of them interacting as people and business owners. It was truly an opportunity for individuals who would have never met under any other circumstances, due to geography or industry, to form collaborative relationships.”
The 2023 cohort launched in January and included 21 entrepreneurs, up from 10 in 2022, with the expansion due to the NetWork Kansas support. Southwestern Kansas business owner, Phillip Parish, Founder and CEO of S&P Catering LLC, is among them. Parish owns a mobile food truck and caters events and special occasions of any size. His service area is within a 150-mile radius of Jetmore, Kansas.
Parish credits Seiler of NetWork Kansas for alerting him about the program.
“Everyone is very nice, so helpful” Parish said. “I’ve made some great and lasting connections to some wonderful people through this. I was nervous at first, they have us doing lots of engaging activities… but that nervousness died down. I would highly recommend anyone with the opportunity to take advantage of this, to do so. It’s definitely worth it.”
Amber Dunn, Program Manager with NXTUS, said the program is hyper-customized for each entrepreneur who participates. Key features include founders being connected with a national coaching partner, the opportunity to test different business assumptions and validate them through weekly homework experiments. Add the cohort-wide workshops and peer roundtables, all provided at no cost to participating entrepreneurs, and what emerges is a model program that NXTUS hopes to continue providing to Kansas entrepreneurs.
Beyond NetWork Kansas, the program received its initial funding from the Economic Development Administration and is part of a series of services provided by The Wichita Entrepreneurship Coalition, which is led by NXTUS and Wichita State University.
“Often, the entrepreneurial journey can be very lonely or isolating, but we provide a space for our founders to bounce ideas off of one another through our peer roundtable coaching sessions. They celebrate even small wins and can share challenges with their peers… while establishing real connections,” Dunn said. “In addition, each participant receives new headshots, pitch coaching, ongoing mentorship, and continued access to our resources.”
Seiler has watched, with excitement, how accommodating NXTUS has been and the impact the program is having on all participants, especially those from Southwest Kansas. She points to a comment one of the participating entrepreneurs said about finding support through the cohort to “do the founder life together.”
“It’s so important to have other founders who will support you and cheer you on and bounce ideas off the wall with you because, in reality, being a founder is often hard, lonely work,” Seiler said. “Friends and family may love you but not really understand what you’re going through, and this group will. I would bet you money that their connections don’t end when they graduate in March.”