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Startup Grind Wichita reveals NetWork Kansas’ secret to success: relationships, connections

By Christina M. Long, NetWork Kansas

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The spotlight is something that NetWork Kansas’ leaders, Steve Radley and Erik Pedersen, always shine on others.

As the featured guests of Thursday night’s Startup Grind in downtown Wichita, the spotlight was all theirs. Together, Radley and Pedersen, shared highlights of their story as lifelong friends who have worked in various industries ranging from department store sales to the tech industry to a failed bakery to a successful mobile home dealership.

All of the experiences led up to one of their biggest gigs – overseeing a statewide organization dedicated to the cultivation and advancement of Kansas entrepreneurs through the Kansas Center for Entrepreneurship. Radley was brought aboard in 2005 and Pedersen joined soon after. Among their first tasks was to bring together resource providers and create a statewide referral center.

The two began traveling the state; talking with people to see what the needs are.

“To build a network, you must be willing to meet with people without any agenda,” Radley said. “This is about relationships.”

That face-to-face interaction was critical, Pedersen said. “You can’t depend on building genuine relationships with people from behind a computer screen.”

They successfully created a referral center which fields calls from all over the state with people inquiring about ways to start a business to people posing questions about business taxes and exporting, among other topics. The referral network now has more than 500 partners.

Beyond the referral center, NetWork Kansas also oversees an initiative which provides gap financing for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Radley and Pedersen shared how they empowered local communities to oversee the loan funds and, as a result, now have 64 active Entrepreneurship Communities, fondly called E-Communities that, through the years, have loaned more than $20 million to more than 590 business and have leveraged an additional $92 million of other capital such as bank loans, for example.  In total, NetWork Kansas has made more than $40 million in loans and investments leveraging more than $400 million. 

“You can’t say you’re empowering people and not give them the power,” Radley and Pedersen said about their approach to working with local communities through the loan initiative.

Throughout the night, the two shared tales of the people and places they’ve visited in Kansas to the lessons they’ve learned along the way. They spoke about the power of having mentors. Radley encouraged people to seek out mentors; don’t wait for mentors to find them. Pedersen discussed their ability to partner well together through the years, describing their strengths as opposite of one another. Radley’s the big-picture visionary. Pedersen’s the detail-oriented, strategic planner and implementer. The combination of their leadership is evident.

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Throughout the night, they reminded the audience that the story of NetWork Kansas is firmly rooted in the stories of their partners. The humility of their approach prompted one audience member to ask, “What can we do to support NetWork Kansas?”

The best answer came from a few simple requests: follow #kseship, connect entrepreneurs seeking answers about starting or growing a business to the referral center and, most of all keep in mind that a vibrant, active entrepreneurship community remains that way because of the relationships it nurtures.