By Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas
In a previous article, my good friend and VP of Entrepreneurship for NetWork Kansas summarized the beginnings of NetWork Kansas (NK) aka Kansas Center for Entrepreneurship. The journey started for NK in 2005 with what has grown to be 500 resource partners across the state to aid entrepreneurs. Soon after the start of the Successful Entrepreneur Program at ICC in 2006 we applied for and became one of those resource partners. In 2006, NK initiated Start Up Kansas, a statewide program of gap financing for small business start-ups. This evolved into the addition of local Entrepreneurial Communities (E-Communities) around the state that also provide gap financing loans and other programming with loan decision-making at a local board level.
Local E-Community Started in Coffeyville
Happening in the same timeframe, in 2007, I was a founding board member of Downtown Coffeyville, part of the now defunct, but soon to be reinvigorated Kansas Main Street program. We hired Shelley Paasch as executive director. In 2010, we applied for and became a NK E-Community for Coffeyville and the surrounding area.
Meanwhile, sometime in 2009, after the recession of 2008, there was a community meeting in Independence to brainstorm ways to revitalize Independence. I can’t remember the exact date or what it was called, but local banker Chuck Goad facilitated the gathering of about 100 people. In groups, we circulated among tables, each with a different economic development theme writing our related big ideas on large sticky notes. All the sticky notes were put on a wall in their appropriate categories. One of the ideas was to create an entity to help start and incubate small businesses.
IBRC Started in 2009
I found an email from July of 2009 I sent to organize the first meeting of an unnamed business institute that would help entrepreneurs and develop a business incubation program. The group would be made up of a volunteer board of business owners. I became the volunteer executive director; ICC has always supported my volunteer work in area economic development. There would be no paid staff with our initial resource of $5,000. That came from Independence Action Partnership. We wrangled over a name for several meetings. The first name was Independence Business Resource Center, but by the next meeting, the board did not want to limit its scope to just Independence, so we became Innovative Business Resource Center (IBRC).
Montgomery County E-Community Merges Two
In 2012, we applied for and became North Montgomery County E-Community. I had to explain to NetWork Kansas that the time wasn’t right to attempt to combine this new E-Community with the one in Coffeyville. Both E-Communities in the county co-existed for a couple of years. With the dissolution of the Kansas Main Street program and eventually the Downtown Coffeyville group (BTW, Shelley Paasch has since become the NetWork Kansas manager for rural entrepreneurship), conditions became right for combining the E-Communities and in middle of 2017, we became Montgomery County E-Community with IBRC the local partner entity.
NetWork Kansas provides a dashboard for us each month showing a summary of all loans credited to the original two E-Community groups, now one. Counting one or two of the Start Up Kansas loans made to Montgomery County business earlier in 2009 and 2010, NetWork Kansas and E-Community have made possible nearly $1 million in gap financing loans. Montgomery County E-Community currently has no delinquencies or failed loans. We’ve also provided nearly $25,000 in scholarships to aid businesses in programs such as Destination Boot Camp, a two- and one-half-day camp during which businesses learn a 14-point program to draw customers from a wider area.
Although completely separate entities, we work in conjunction with Montgomery County Action Council (MCAC has its own long history of working toward county-wide economic development) in putting together loan packages for businesses throughout the county.
Every county has their own methods of promoting economic development. For Montgomery County, Kansas the Montgomery County E-Community, the fabrication, prototyping, marketing tools and coaching of Fab Lab ICC, the overall economic development efforts of Montgomery County Action Council and the work of the Chambers, Main Street and city and county governments, make for a powerful combination in helping entrepreneurs and small businesses grow and thrive amid an uncertain global marketplace.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @jimcorrellks. Archive columns and podcast at jimcorrell.com.