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A New Take on Ice House: Startup Northwest Kansas

By: NetWork Kansas

Startup NW KS

Thomas County hosted an Ice House Entrepreneurship Mindset class with a unique twist this spring. After successfully hosting an Ice House class in the fall of 2016, Thomas County Economic Development Director, Vernon Hurd, decided to market this class from a different angle to attract even more participants. Hurd wanted to draw potential startups to the class and create an engaging environment and he came up with several creative twists on the standard Ice House class to do just that.

Instead of limiting the class to Colby, Thomas County Economic Development Alliance partnered with Colby Community College to bring this class to participants from the Northwest Kansas region. The course was marketed as a $450 value, but registration fees were $100, or $50 for students.  In addition to the in-person class, an online option was also offered. Rather than use the “Ice House” or “entrepreneurial mindset” labels, Hurd advertised this as a business startup class called Startup Northwest Kansas and introduced the Ice House concepts only after the class began.

Startup NW KS 1

This class was six weeks long, meeting weekly on Wednesday evenings, with meals included, and featured entrepreneurship guest speakers to keep participants engaged as they developed their business ideas and prepared for the culminating competition, a Shark Tank-style business competition with a tradeshow. The class also featured discussions of the material focused on real-world application.

Each participant developed a business plan, an elevator pitch, and a tradeshow display for a business concept.

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“Attendance was great for the tradeshow and Shark Tank competition and it’s great people showed an interest in prospective businesses,” said Crystal Pounds, Business Instructor at Colby Community College.

Goals included bringing clarity to the participants’ startup ideas and providing participants with concrete direction for their next steps to grow a business after the class and competition. Hurd hoped that the participants would be able to develop their ideas further with more practical instruction and the incentive of a competition with prizes.

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“I believe a huge part of the success for this most recent class was pairing it with specific business subjects to help launch their businesses as well as the competition that provided start-up capital and services. While we brainstormed the business subjects among a small group, we really hit the nail on the head because each of those generated significant questions and interaction from the participants. The competition also had the added benefits of not only exposing the public to their new businesses, but also created a buzz and excitement within the community,” said Vernon Hurd, Executive Director of Thomas County Economic Development Alliance.

Students prepared their business presentations with the help of the course material. In addition to the Ice House curriculum, each class featured a guest speaker who presented as a subject-matter expert. The topics were: business plans, business law, business management, marketing, accounting and financing, and e-commerce.

“The unique pairing of entrepreneurial mindset skills from the Ice House curriculum and the opportunity to build their resource network with specific guest speakers was a valuable twist offered to the participants of StartUp Northwest Kansas. The planning team and Vernon were very diligent about identifying which resources would be most useful to the students,” said Simone Elder, Manager of Western Region E-Communities for NetWork Kansas.

The experiment proved successful in attracting students to the course and engaging them in the class. Although enrollment was slightly lower than the last class, there was more engagement within the group discussions this time and a higher level of energy and interest in the material.

Hurd added that, “Out of the 8 businesses represented in the class, four are already up and running. Two of those are almost at capacity and will have to be looking at expanding staffing and/or hours to keep pace with demand. Two more businesses should be open within a few months.”

Shark Tank Competition Results:

1st Place - Oasis Bread Shoppe – Angie Gaede - $2500 in prizes
2nd place - Limitless Expressions – Lynn Eisenbart - $1500 in cash and prizes
3rd place - Beak 'Em Hawk Hats – Yvonne Wingard - $1000 in cash and prizes
People's Choice (tradeshow) – Purdy Petals - Lacy O'Neal - $500
R&R Power Washing – Ryan Unruh – $500 scholarship to CCC