eCommunities Program Boosts Entrepreneurial Capacity in Rural Nebraska | Nebraska today
The term “community environment” can cover everything from culture to security to infrastructure. But when Shawn Kaskie, a Broken Bow-based Rural Prosperity Nebraska extension educator, talks about the community environment, he has a special meaning in mind.
“For communities to thrive,” Kaskie said, “leaders and business owners need to create and grow a strong entrepreneurial environment.”
To foster entrepreneurship in rural Nebraska, Kaskie created eCommunities, a program funded by the WE Economic Development Administration that focuses on helping communities identify, collect, and cultivate resources that encourage entrepreneurship in their cities. He works with three entrepreneurial coaches (eCoaches) and six communities: Doris Lux in the greater Columbus area; Caleb Pollard in Broken Bow, Ord and Valentine; and Teliza Rodriguez in Grand Island and the greater Hastings area.
Having recently passed halfway through the two-year program, Kaskie said he is proud of the evolution in thinking about entrepreneurship he has witnessed so far.
“Attitudes and mindsets matter,” Kaskie said. “When we believe we can be successful, we tend to be more successful. When we are labeled as challenged with limited potential, we are often held back by holding ourselves back.
With guidance from Kaskie and her team of three entrepreneurial coaches, the eCommunities program follows a blueprint to get people to start thinking about what success looks like in their cities. It begins with conversations among community-selected steering committee members that focus on identifying the strengths and weaknesses of their entrepreneurial climate.
For example, the Grand Island committee quickly recognized where it was struggling.
“We hadn’t created, encouraged, grown, supported (entrepreneurship) the area of our business development in years,” said Grand Island and Chamber of Commerce committee member Cindy Johnson. “We are a community that was founded by entrepreneurs, but there was a void.
These discussions lead communities to the next step in the process, creating goals and action plans to build on strengths and develop areas that may be lacking. Although the program follows a plan, the results so far vary from city to city – just as it was designed.
“Yes, there are phases in this process,” Kaskie said, “but it’s community coaching. It’s all locally reactive.
The Grand Island committee is now focusing part of its efforts on a youth entrepreneurship program for the 2022-23 school year. High school sophomores across Hall County can volunteer to take a Gallup test to identify entrepreneurial propensities. The top 10% will take part in a two-day workshop called the Inspiration Rally.
During the workshop, students will complete one of two tasks, said Dave Taylor, Grand Island’s director of economic development. Either they create a business idea within their groups, or the participating communities submit a problem they are having, and the students come up with solutions to rectify the problem.
“Then it becomes a ‘Shark Tank’ type situation,” Taylor said. “The winning team will receive a $1,000 reward for their innovative ideas. »
Efforts on the ground to strengthen entrepreneurial environments vary, from organizing youth-centric programs to creating a collaborative coworking space for startups, one of Columbus’s goals. In Ord, Lacy Griffith, owner of The Ord Quiz and Quiz Graphic Arts, worked with an eCoach to bring web-based technology to increase productivity in her businesses.
“We were using paper work orders, and it was a nightmare,” Griffith said. “One of the first things (our eCoach) suggested was to find an online production management tool to keep everything together in one place where everyone can access it. Honestly, it helped so much.
“It’s increased efficiency, which has helped create more business because you have more time to do more business,” said Kristina Foth, office manager. “If a community has the ability or the resources to employ a business coach, it’s a powerful message to be able to say, ‘We want our community to grow; therefore, we invest in local businesses to provide individualized and one-on-one support. »
Regardless of the results of working with eCoaches, the spirit behind the activities of individual cities is a constant across Nebraska. eCommunities helps foster that spirit, Kaskie said.
“Community capacity building is fundamental for every community, from the largest and most vibrant to the smallest and most distressed,” he said. “Entrepreneur-led development, done right, inherently builds the capacity of the community to do more with entrepreneurs and overall community economic development. Human talent – driven, passionate, capable – is the cornerstone of today’s thriving economies and communities.
Although the eCommunities program is only funded for two years, Kaskie hopes the impact will last much longer.
“The attraction, development and retention of people, coupled with the intelligent creation of quality places to live, evolves a community and regional environment where entrepreneurs – and the communities in which they live, work and play – thrive,” Kaskie said. “With the prosperity development framework in mind, creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem is the way to achieve the desired goals.”