Kansas Entrepreneurs get Boost with Grant Program

Manhattan, Kan. — The president of a Kansas company that helps small business owners start and grow successful companies recently announced a partnership with a community foundation that will inspire entrepreneurship in the state.

Erik Pedersen, who is also the chief operating officer of NetWork Kansas, said his team received a $500,000 grant from the Patterson Family Foundation in mid-February to hire an Entrepreneurship Community coach, and fund a program that provides loans and grants to Kansans who want to pursue a business idea.

Pedersen was a featured speaker during K-State Research and Extension’s monthly online series, First Friday e-Calls, which helps to nurture small businesses and inspire entrepreneurship in Kansas.

He said that in its first few months, the foundation – which honors the legacy of Kansans Neal and Jeanne Patterson – has provided $65,540 in grants, accompanying $328,100 in loans from NetWork Kansas.

Pedersen said the funds are distributed by NetWork Kansas to a group of 66 Kansas communities that have rallied around inspiring entrepreneurship and community development.

“This has allowed our E-Community money to go further, and the ability for communities to convert a portion of the loan to a grant benefits rural Kansas businesses,” Pedersen said.

According to Pedersen, leadership teams in the E-Communities have sole discretion on who gets the loans – “which must be matched with a public or private form of capital,” he said — as well as who qualifies for grants. The maximum loan is $45,000.

“In exchange for providing these funds, we require the community to have a local leadership team (such as an economic development board or similar group) that meets regularly to discuss the entrepreneur ecosystem in the community,” Pedersen said. “Then, we provide a ‘coach,’ or regional manager employed by NetWork Kansas, to facilitate discussions and answer questions.”

Established by the Kansas Economic Growth Act of 2004, NetWork Kansas has helped to drive entrepreneurship across the state. As of March, 2022, the E-Community partnership has approved 811 loans totalling $26.2 million to 773 Kansas businesses, according to Pedersen.

More information on loans and grants available through the company’s partnership with the Patterson Family Foundation, and the requirements of E-Communities in Kansas, is available online.

Also during the First Friday e-Call in May, Bailee Henry – the product manager of NetWork Kansas’ E-Community programs – said more than 1,000 youth participated in this year’s 9th annual Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge series, an event for those in grades 6-12.

Henry said the YEC is a sequence of community-based entrepreneurship competitions for students in grades 6-12, culminating in a state championship. “The YEC series gives students hands-on experience thinking entrepreneurially by creating, developing and presenting a business concept that addresses a problem or opportunity,” she said.

Youth compete at local challenges for the opportunity to present their idea at the Kansas Entrepreneurship Challenge, which was held on K-State’s Manhattan campus in late April.

Some of the concepts presented this year or previous years include dog boarding, zombie pizzas, social media marketing, agricultural drones, bundt cakes, bath bombs, software development, lip balm, recycled rubber shoes and wedding planning.

More information on the YEC is available online.

The full May 6 presentation and other First Friday presentations are available online from K-State Research and Extension.