By Amara Kniep
The Ice House Entrepreneurship Program is a class devoted to encouraging participants to develop an entrepreneurial mindset – to view problems as opportunities. This course is sponsored by NetWork Kansas in selected communities across the state. In my role at NetWork Kansas, I’ve been to many Ice House classes and have seen and want to share the impact it has on participants.
In our 2017 fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30, eight E-Communities hosted an Ice House class: Riley/Pottawatomie Counties, Thomas County, Greeley County, Pawnee County, Sterling/Alden (Rice County), Cherokee County, and Hodgeman County. One hundred and sixteen people participated in these seven classes. Classes typically run eight weeks, with each session lasting approximately three hours including dinner. Some sessions also feature local entrepreneurs as a guest speaker.
Our year kicked off with the wKREDA Ice House boot camp in August in Colby. This boot camp was specifically targeted to our resource partners that work in economic development, and was facilitated by Vernon Hurd, Executive Director at Thomas County Economic Development Alliance. The goal of the boot camp was to expose partners to the program and generate interest in bringing it to their communities. I also attended this boot camp as a new NetWork Kansas employee and it was a fantastic introduction to what Ice House is all about. The boot camp achieved its purpose – two E-Community point people ended up bringing the course to their communities within the next six months and another two attendees got certified to facilitate Ice House.
Western Kansas hosted the most Ice House classes this year. Thomas County hosted another class for community members in the fall. The class was also facilitated by Vernon Hurd and had twelve participants that included current and prospective business owners. In February, Pawnee County and Greeley County both began Ice House classes in their communities. Both E-Community point people had attended the wKREDA Ice House boot camp in August and decided to bring it to their counties. Greeley County started on February 13 with fourteen participants and was facilitated by Christy Hopkins. Pawnee County started on February 21 with sixteen participants and was facilitated by Lea Ann Seiler. One participant from Pawnee County is now ready to launch their business after taking the class. Pat Cook of Rozel is planning to open a café. When surveyed about the helpfulness of the class, she wrote, “I was almost ready to quit to obtain my goal. The encouragement received has helped me to press forward.”
Hodgeman County hosted the last class of the fiscal year and had ten participants. It was also facilitated by Lea Ann Seiler. Many participants already had a business venture or were actively working toward starting one. This class lasted from May 23 to June 13 and used an experimental format in which there were still eight sessions but class was held twice a week.
In eastern Kansas, Riley and Pottawatomie counties co-hosted an Ice House class in Manhattan during the fall. Eighteen people attended that class, facilitated by Mary Ann Riederer. Participants surveyed by NetWork Kansas rated the class very highly. One participant wrote, “This was a great resource to prepare an entrepreneur’s mind and spirit for taking the leap to start or grow a business.” In March, Cherokee County started its second Ice House class (they hosted one in 2016 also). This class was facilitated by Shelley Paasch and had ten people in attendance. It concluded on May 10.
The central region held an exciting pilot Ice House class in Rice County. This class lasted four weeks and had four sessions, from March 28 to April 18. It was the first time a four-week format has been tried out. Brian Richter facilitated a fast-paced, conversational workshop. Participants surveyed by NetWork Kansas loved the class, rating it very highly. Richter is a master level Ice House facilitator.
We also expanded the NetWork Kansas Ice House efforts to include the ability for communities to use loan funds to pay for facilitator training. This led to NetWork Kansas sponsoring an Ice House facilitator training organized by Jim Correll in Independence, Kansas that brought Gary Schoeniger to the state to facilitate the intensive program. We were excited to see a number of our E-Communities use loan funds to send a facilitator to the training, showing the deep support that is growing for the entrepreneurial mindset across the state.
After attending several sessions from each of these classes, I can see how important this curriculum is to Kansas entrepreneurs. Participants benefitted from the class discussions, networking, and guest speakers from their communities. Surveys repeatedly show that participants enjoy learning about how to change their mindset and come away with ideas to move forward. Some have even started their business after attending.
I am always struck by the passion of not only the class, but the facilitators also. Before each session I attend, I always arrive early to visit with the facilitator about class progress. In each conversation it was evident that the facilitator cares about the community and the individuals in the class, and imagines a better future for all of them. Kansas is incredibly lucky to have people who care so much working to further economic development in our state.
All of the communities that took on the Ice House class this year are proactive and strong. I’ve sincerely enjoyed visiting them and getting to see the passion and resourcefulness of the community members. Ice House is a fantastic tool to bring out those qualities and to build on them. I look forward to expanding this program to many more communities next year!