Local focus. What a few cities are doing to foster healthy entrepreneurial environments.
"I get by with a little help from my friends." – The Beatles
Q&A with Kim Wallace, Kauffman Foundation
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation based in Kansas City, MO, is focused on supporting entrepreneurs in middle America. We asked Kim Wallace Carlson, Director of Engagement—Entrepreneurship, Public Affairs at the Kauffman Foundation, a few questions.
What is the Kauffman Foundation?
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation based in Kansas City, MO. We work with communities in education and entrepreneurship to increase opportunities that allow all people to learn, to take risks, and to own their success. We do this by listening to the communities we serve, tapping into our relationships and expertise, and bringing people together to build and support programs that improve education, boost entrepreneurship, and help Kansas City thrive.
Tell us about 1 Million Cups
Every Wednesday, community members get together to hear about their local entrepreneurs’ businesses and provide support, feedback, and encouragement—all over a cup of coffee. The program is designed for community members and entrepreneurs to meet each other “where they are” and learn how they can help each other. Over the past eight years, 1 Million Cups has evolved from a single meetup in Kansas City to a program that spans across more than 160 communities in the US.
The story of Edie Ramstad is just one example of how 1 Million Cups makes a difference. After a visit to the weekly gathering, Edie found the support she needed to grow her manufacturing business in a town of 1,700. Her company, Weave Got Maille, sells products in 76 countries and has been featured on HBO’s Game of Thrones.
You say that local and hyperlocal activity is what really influences the economy. Can you explain?
Entrepreneurship starts at the local level but there are regional, state, and national implications as well. The strength of our economy is deeply rooted in the sum of its parts—not just Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Every time a new business opens its doors—especially in middle America—that business owner is providing jobs in the community and in aggregate adds to the revenue that impacts the bottom line of our GDP.
Support for entrepreneurs needs to happen at all levels of government, from local to state to federal. Last year, we released America’s New Business Plan, which is a bipartisan roadmap for policymakers that is focused on creating new jobs and leveling the playing field for startups and small businesses.
What is your best advice for budding entrepreneurs in smaller cities?
What’s not different, however, is the importance of community and the support every entrepreneur needs.
CincyTech: How local investments can change a city
CincyTech is one of the biggest and most active seed capital investors in the Midwest. It’s currently adding its 82nd portfolio company and going strong. CincyTech recently raised a $50 million investment, the largest fund in its history, and is currently in the middle of raising a fifth fund. Its active portfolio of companies employ more than 1,200.
Forbes recently did a Q&A with the CEO of CincyTech, Mike Venerable, about how Cincinnati is a thriving city for startups. Venerable, an Ohio native, says that in 2007, the city didn’t have as much going on.
“You’d be downtown, and it felt like living in a black and white movie,” he told Forbes.
But all that has changed and Cincy is now a hotbed of startup activity. “There’s $900 million here now that wouldn’t be. There are 90 venture funds and about 30 strategic investors who have investments in Southwest Ohio that didn’t in 2005—just in our portfolio,” Venerable said.
Talent management in Richmond
Visual Workforce began as an in-house solution that was created to meet the needs of IT staffing agency Capital TechSearch, based in Richmond, VA. TechSearch founder and CEO David Ingram developed the tool to match job descriptions to the skill sets of potential employees in order to identify the strongest candidates for their clients. It proved so successful, he spun off a separate company for the Visual Workforce platform.
Businesses in the professional services sector, such as those in healthcare, investment banking, creative fields, and IT, are using Visual Workforce to identify and track their employees’ proficiency and determine where skills gaps exist. This gives them a big leg-up when it comes to making decisions about staff training needs, internal recruiting, and future hiring. The platform also offers a graphical representation that makes it easier to zero in on key data. On top of that, it helps companies develop and advance the careers of their team members, which attracts talent, builds loyalty, and increases retention.
As Visual Workforce CEO Bryan Bostic, put it, “When it comes to business, people really matter. It’s all about the people.”
Crowdfunding small businesses in Madison
2019 was a great year for small businesses in Madison, WI, thanks to crowdfunding platform Kiva. Last February, it joined forces with the City of Madison, The Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC), Madison Gas and Electric, and Doyenne to launch an initiative called Kiva Greater Madison. The group provided microloans to 18 small companies that were struggling to raise capital to start or grow their businesses.
Kiva provides small businesses with 0% interest no-fee loans with up to 36 months to repay them. It gives priority to women, people of color, immigrants, veterans, and those in lower income brackets. The 2019 loan recipients were 61% women and 78% people of color.
Michael Miller, business development specialist for the City of Madison, praised the initiative. “The City of Madison was excited to help launch the Kiva Greater Madison Program in 2019 because of the exact outcomes the program provided in 2019, getting financial resources to businesses who have traditionally struggled in accessing financial assistance. We are even more excited to see what 2020 brings!”
Useless information that is strangely fascinating.
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