By Anne Dewvall
When Goldilocks visited the three bears’ home in the forest, she was looking for “just right.” Papa Bear’s chair was enormous, Mama Bear’s chair still too large, but Baby Bear’s chair had just the right fit for Goldilocks. This tale may be a children’s story, but it captures the purpose of the Entrepreneurship (E-) Community Partnership very well: NetWork Kansas wants to provide our partner communities with a “just right” fit of engagement, loan funding, and program support.
We officially launched what we refer to behind the scenes as “E-Community 2.0” in July 2018 after 18 months of development. Although there have been constant and incremental changes to the E-Community Partnership since its inception more than a decade ago, the updates we made to the program during the past year were significant enough we view it as a new product. The changes we made reflect a decade of partnership with Kansas communities, deep dive discussions and reflections as an E-Community team, and a constant cycle of input from our E-Community partners.
By working alongside our E-Community partners, we had uncovered some important facets of entrepreneurship ecosystem building that “worked” and knew we had some important tools that make a difference in our partner communities, like access to loan funds, local decision making on loans, the coaching and expertise of our staff, and financial and other support for entrepreneurship programs. We also knew that it was time to make some changes for the sustainability of the program – and this applies to NetWork Kansas as well as our partners.
Every change we made was rooted in experience and the result of long, thoughtful discussions and projections. I asked “what if” more times than I can count. Some of the changes we made, like moving from 61 individual loan fund accounts to 3 regional accounts, have been in operation for almost a year, which gave us even more experience on which to base further enhancements.
Some changes were probably long overdue, like the implementation of annual partnership agreements. E-Communities no longer have a lifetime membership (or a lifetime sentence, as I have heard joked more than once) and now a partner community has clear benefits and expectations for a single fiscal year. We hope this change frees E-Communities to focus on action, rather than hoarding loan funds for “someday” and gives long-term volunteer teams the chance to collectively recommit – or decide to opt out if the time is no longer right for E-Community to be a priority. Our early experience this year is proving both of those hopes true.
The big systemic shift that makes this “E-Community 2.0”, though, has to do with Goldilocks. It was time to provide “just right” options for E-Communities. We created three levels of services and benefits, named, very cleverly, Levels 1, 2, and 3.
All three levels still “look” like an E-Community and provide access to E-Community loan funds, keep decision making on business loans at the local level, provide access to funding and best practices for entrepreneurship programs, and are supported through a close relationship with NetWork Kansas.
The levels offer differing amounts of access to these resources, as well as corresponding expectations for activity. An E-Community “Level” is determined by scoring the community’s loan portfolio’s performance over a four-year period and E-Community activity and engagement over a one-year period.
Whether a community falls at Level 3, 2, or 1, they are a NetWork Kansas E-Community and have access to a wealth of resources, support, and funding, ranging from loan fund access of $75,000 on up to $250,000 for the current fiscal year. Click here for a breakdown of the Summary of Benefits by Level.
I could write for pages about the changes we made and the reasoning behind them because I feel so passionately about the product we’ve created, but the message I hope I leave you with is this: Everything we do is based in experience, and is done with the intention of creating a sustainable resource for Kansas. E-Community 2.0 has been live for four months now, and we’ve already started meeting about how to continue to evolve the model for next fiscal year.
We’re looking at E-Community 2.1, not 3.0, but we’re excited to make this partnership even stronger. At our November E-Community team meeting, we talked about changes to the scoring system and the benefits, how to bring new E-Communities online, and what else we can do at NetWork Kansas to make sure we’re doing our part with sustainability. We’ll have more to share soon, but we’re grateful for the support of our partners, without whom we could not offer that “just right” opportunity.
Summary of Benefits by Level
E-Community Partnership Structure