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Origins of Montgomery County E-Community Part 1

By Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas


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In addition to my role as director of Fab Lab ICC, I have a volunteer role in an entity we now call Montgomery County E-Community (MEC) In the next column, I’ll fill in some of the details about now MEC has impacted local and area businesses for the last 10 years or so.

Before we can totally understand the impact of Montgomery County E-Community we need an introduction into the state-wide initiative of NetWork Kansas. Its programming in support of entrepreneurship and gap financing for small businesses, is unique in the United States. In my view, the overwhelming success of NetWork Kansas comes about because Steve Radley, President and CEO, and Erik Pedersen, VP of Entrepreneurship are both themselves entrepreneurs, having partnered in both successful and unsuccessful businesses. You can’t really design a program to help entrepreneurs unless you, yourself have struggled to make payroll and pay the bills. I’ve asked my good friend Erik to summarize the start of NetWork Kansas and the E-Community initiative.

Kansas Hires Two Entrepreneurs to Run a State Program

“In May 2005, Steve Radley and I were hired to open the Kansas Center for Entrepreneurship. We were fortunate to have great partners provide us with office space as we got our feet on the ground, including Wichita State University and Butler Community College. Our first charter was to create a referral center, a one-stop shop to connect entrepreneurs to a network of resource partners. This part of NetWork Kansas has grown to over 500 resource partners and we receive 250 - 300 inbound leads each month on our toll-free hotline (1-877-521-8600) or email (info@networkkansas.com).

Startup Kansas Launched to Provide Matching Loans

“In 2006, we launched Startup Kansas, a statewide program to provide matching loans to businesses in rural communities or distressed geographical areas of urban communities. This ability to impact Kansas businesses with gap financing, and the realization that a deeper relationship with our resource partners could impact rural communities at a greater level, provided a clear path to the rollout of the Entrepreneurship (E-) Community Partnership in late 2007. An E-Community is a partnership in which NetWork Kansas allocates an amount of loan funds to each of 64 Kansas E-Communities (defined as a town, a cluster of towns or a county). The loan fund is intended as gap financing that the community has local decision-making control over which businesses to provide matching loans to. This loan fund has proven to be a game-changer. Over 11 years, the E-Community network has approved 637 loans to 608 businesses (some have come back more than once), totaling $20.5 million. Remember when I said it's supposed to be gap financing? It's proving out to be - this $20.5 million is only 18% of the money that has gone into those 637 loans, leveraging another $94.6 million of public and private capital. To understand the significant impact these gap financing funds have had in rural Kansas, you only need to look at the fact that 42% of the loans are to startups and 34% are to expansions; one in four are retail, one in five are restaurant, and almost half of the loans have taken place in towns with a population under 5,000.

E-Community Evolves into Additional Programs for Small Business

“In addition to having local oversight of the loan fund, the E-Community leadership teams work with a NetWork Kansas E-Community coach to engage in strategic planning, initiate activities and introduce entrepreneurship programming to generate statewide development. Just like each community is unique, each team is unique, and they chart their own path. As the team decides to focus their efforts in a specific area (entrepreneurship mindset, generating startups, perhaps engaging youth), the E-Community coach will introduce programming options such as: Ice House entrepreneurial mindset, Destination Boot Camp and Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. Sometimes, the local team wants to focus on an area in which a programming option isn't readily available. In those instances, by asking "what if..." and "what would it look like if we did this...", the coach and team can create an idea for a pilot program. Some of the best ideas bubble-up from those one-off conversations.

New Programs Sometimes Come from Local E-Communities

“There are countless examples of innovative ideas coming out of our E-Communities and E-Communities themselves leading us down new paths. Montgomery County fits that description well. Coffeyville became an E-Community in 2010. Northern Montgomery County joined the partnership in 2012. The two merged a couple years ago to become Montgomery County E-Community. Not long after, we were introduced to the Fab Lab at Independence Community College. (I've known Jim Correll, Director Fab Lab ICC, for 10+ years, and I hold him in very high regard, so the fact he created this space to design, create and build wasn't a surprise). When the NetWork Kansas staff was able to experience it, touch it, feel it, and see the difference a place like this could make in rural Kansas communities, it was a no-brainer for us to ask "how can we share this model with others". Jim and Tim Haynes (Fab Lab Manager) took that question and ran with it. The result is Maker Space Boot Camp, a 2 1/2 day training for communities who want to learn how to create an entrepreneurial mindset and maker space in their community to enhance community revitalization efforts. The following blog explains it as well as I could.

https://www.networkkansas.com/ecommunities/news/ntks-blog/2019/11/04/a-unique-experience-at-maker-space-boot-camp

Sixty-four E-Communities Produce Great Results

“When people ask about the E-Community partnership, I always tell them the loan funds are the carrot that gives our staff a seat at the table with the local leadership team. And it's at the table where we form relationships and strategically discuss how we can help create a flourishing entrepreneurial environment in that community. The E-Community partnership, in Montgomery County, and the other 63 exceptional communities, is producing great results.

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu or Twitter @jimcorrellks. Archive columns and podcast at jimcorrell.com.