BY MELISSA CONN, DIRECTOR, KENTUCKY HIGHLANDS INNOVATION CENTER
The Energizing Entrepreneurial Communities program supports rural entrepreneurs in their business ventures to move community development efforts to the next level. The initiative was originally established in Kansas by the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. In a regional effort funded through an Appalachian Regional Commission POWER grant, four West Virginia communities – who are working with a team at The Hub – have embarked on this three year initiative to advance their local economies alongside teams working in communities in Eastern Kentucky and Southeastern Ohio.
Here, we bring you a story from a Kentucky community.
For many counties in the region, out-migration is a problem. Owsley County, Kentucky is hoping that nurturing local entrepreneurs will not only create more businesses, it will create more employment and people will come back to the county.
That’s where initiatives like the Energizing Entrepreneurial Communities (E2C) come in. People want to start businesses but need direction and resources to get started as well as assistance to keep from getting discouraged once they are up and running. As part of the E2C program, the Kentucky Highlands Innovation Center (KHIC Center) participated in a roundtable/workshop meeting in Booneville in late August along with the Owsley County E2C Committee, the Owsley County Action Team and the Kentucky Innovation Network Richmond Office.
The meeting was organized by Glenn Baker—who until recently was the community education director, Owsley County Community Education—with full support from the Owsley County Action Team. “The workshop was fantastic,” Baker said. “The visiting technical assistance providers were able meet individually with each of three local enterprises and share with them specific information they need to succeed as well as offer immediate feedback regarding each business owner’s ideas about how best to move their small business forward.”
The Owsley County entrepreneurs ranged from the co-owners of a bed and breakfast, the owner of a monogrammed apparel company who would like to expand online, and two social entrepreneurs from a Booneville community-based organization that has a black-box theater and seeks to buy the old theater to show movies and stage productions.
Melissa Conn, director of the KHIC Center, which is the London office of the Kentucky Innovation Network, spoke to the entrepreneurs. She is a certified facilitator of the Ice House entrepreneurial training program and brought copies of the book, Who Owns the Ice House? Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur, for all of the meeting participants as well as several students. Those students are participating in the Kentucky Lieutenant Governor’s Entrepreneurship Challenge, an annual competition for high-schoolers.
Other speakers were Zachary Stanifer, a KHIC loan officer; Kristel Smith, director of the Kentucky Innovation Network’s Richmond office; and Robert Donnan, who is the Kentucky Coordinator working on the seven-county Energizing Entrepreneurial Communities. The larger initiative is hosted by the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, working in a partnership with The Brushy Fork Institute at Berea College.
“Repeatedly throughout the meeting, these entrepreneurs said they wanted to stay in Owsley County because of a love for the community,” Conn said. “I believe that in some of the smallest communities we serve, we find the biggest pockets of hope.”