By: Erik Pedersen
Vice President of Entrepreneurship, NetWork Kansas
Photo credit: IMDb
In the movie Wedding Crashers, Christopher Walken's character, Secretary Cleary, says this to his daughter, Clare, as she's trying to make the right decision as to whether to marry Sack Lodge (Bradley Cooper) or call it off and develop a relationship with John Beckwith (Owen Wilson). "All we can do is use the information at hand to make the best decision possible.”
What an awesome movie! How cool is the scene where they're having a family football game? Or when John visits Chazz at his home and Chazz says the famous line, "Ma, can we get some meatloaf?"
Sorry, I digressed. Seriously though, I actually think of Christopher Walken's quote at work sometimes....stay with me here.
At its core, the E-Community partnership is about allocating an amount of funds to each of our 64 E-Communities (see the map) and giving them autonomy to provide matching loans to for-profit businesses in their community. In exchange, we ask that they have a local leadership team that will meet regularly to conduct strategic planning, set goals and priorities for moving the needle in their entrepreneurial ecosystem, and make progress on those goals. A NetWork Kansas E-Community coach (Shelley Paasch, Ciara Thyfault, Sarah LaRosh and Christina Long...we are in the process of filling a vacant position in western KS) stands ready to be in lockstep with each team, helping them make progress on those goals, sometimes with one of our board certified programs or a pilot program (all overseen by Amara Kniep and Anne Dewvall) and sometimes with something that doesn't involve us at all.
Each year for the past several, we sit down and try our best to figure out how to allocate our loan funds for the next year. We only have so many loan funds and everyone wants some of the pie, so how can we best divide it up? We ask ourselves questions like: did the E-Community use the loan funds they received last year? Are they charging a reasonable interest rate, to help the account grow and/or offset defaults? Did they make good decisions with this gap financing and are the loan recipients making repayments? Did their leadership team meet regularly? Did they set goals and make progress? Whether it's our programs or their own ideas, is youth, entrepreneurship and small business stuff happening in their community? Did they engage their E-Community coach? We ask and answer these questions about each one of the 64 partner communities, and then as best possible, we try to fairly allocate the loan funds for the next year.
We ask and answer the above questions because it's the best way we know to manage an increasing demand with a finite supply. Don't get me wrong, it's a sizeable supply, but it's still being tested by an increasing demand. Look at this growth: In 2015, $1.6 million was loaned out to 56 businesses. In '18 that number had grown to $4.6 million of loans to 104 businesses. 47% of the loans go to businesses in towns with a population under 5,000 (and of that, 12% have a pop. under 1,000). 49% are service businesses, 26% retail and 19% restaurants. 41% are startups and 35% are expansions. To cap it off, the loan portfolio is very strong. There is no doubt these funds are being used to make a meaningful and significant difference in rural communities and distressed areas of urban communities, and the local teams are being good stewards of the money we allocate them.
So, even though the supply is large, how do we manage an increasing demand against that supply? For this year, we are piloting the idea of setting a statewide cap. Then based on historical usage, we are breaking the statewide cap down into a cap for each region (wKREDA, Central, Eastern, Urban distressed) and allowing each E-Community coach to create a plan to best utilize their allocation of loan funds fully but fairly. As Secretary Cleary said, "all we can do is use the information at hand to make the best decision possible".
Thank you to our 64 E-Communities who continue to help us grow this partnership. Your push-back, input and the close relationship we have with you is the backbone of what makes this partnership a national best-practices model.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go watch another favorite of mine, Caddyshack, and come up with lines for my next blog.