President and Chief Operating Officer
(Andover, Kansas) – NetWork Kansas, a statewide entrepreneurship support organization that provides economic resources, education and expertise, is realigning staffing and resources to unite urban geographies in Kansas to spur even greater economic impact. Jenn Laird, who has coached Entrepreneurship (E-) Community teams since 2021 with NetWork Kansas, will now serve as the Manager, Urban Engagement for the organization.
In this role, Laird will design and implement an urban strategies directive for the following Kansas Entrepreneurship (E-) Communities: Kansas City, Kansas Urban (KCK Urban), Lawrence Urban (and Douglas County), Shawnee County/Topeka, and Riley County/Manhattan). The strategy will be developed— both collectively as well as community-specific— in partnership with the local leadership teams and Entrepreneur Support Organizations, with intentionality towards creating increased opportunities for minority entrepreneurs and gaining a deeper understanding of the unique challenges urban communities face.
“It has been an honor to work alongside each of the Northeast Urban E-Communities over the past two years, and I hope to take those learnings and relationships forward in this new role,” Laird said. “I am proud to be a part of an organization like NetWork Kansas that is putting significant resources towards intentional work to more deeply support underserved and underestimated entrepreneurs in urban-distressed communities across the state.”
In addition to the role’s priority focus areas, Laird will also have direct oversight of the Empower Loan Fund. This pilot program was created to provide up to $15,000 in no-match loans to minority-owned small businesses in five Kansas communities. A key to the loan fund is the wrap-around technical assistance provided to the borrowers by local resource partners.
“It’s hard to put into words the value that this role will have and, more importantly, the message of intentional equity that NetWork Kansas is sending to urban communities across Kansas,” said Kira Cheree’ Cobb, Founder and CEO of Entrepreneur Business Basics, a NetWork Kansas board-certified program. “Jenn’s presence in urban E-Communities is invaluable. She is in tune with the various issues of minority entrepreneurs across Kansas and works tirelessly to solve those problems while including the ecosystem partners on the ground level. This won’t be a job for Jenn; just a greater opportunity for her to continue to be, uniquely, herself —an advocate.”
Urban-distressed E-Communities provide economic support and champion growth in geographic areas that reflect higher concentrations of poverty. These urban centers represent a key role in NetWork Kansas’ commitment to building inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems across the state. NetWork Kansas’ work will lead to underrepresented businesses being better identified, connected to resources and funded in ways that strengthen their operational ability and economic impact.
Laird’s position takes effect June 1, 2023.
“NetWork Kansas is intentional about our commitment to develop a more comprehensive urban-area engagement strategy, and this strategy can stand up alongside our commitment to rural entrepreneurship,” said Erik Pedersen, NetWork Kansas’ President and Chief Operating Officer. “We believe there are opportunities to increase our learning, and continue to make significant gains in economic impact through inclusive entrepreneurship.”
NetWork Kansas, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, is dedicated to making entrepreneurship a priority for economic and community development in the State of Kansas. NetWork Kansas connects aspiring entrepreneurs, emerging and established businesses, to a deep network of business-building and community development resource organizations across the state. NetWork Kansas facilitates the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem within participating communities through the E-Community Partnership. Contributing factors to successful development include the availability of financial capital, support by local leadership, and development of educational resources. All of these factors combine to increase entrepreneurial activity in participating towns, leading to increased startup activity, business expansion, job creation, and more. NetWork Kansas is also the home of e2 Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (e2) and Entrepreneurial Growth Ventures. Visit: www.networkkansas.com.