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The right time – and place – to catalyze equitable opportunity in the heart of America

2020 Heartland Challenge RFP for Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas
For those building inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems in Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska or Kansas, this new Kauffman Foundation RFP will fund capacity-building for programs, as well as create facilitated, year-long, peer-learning, communities of practice.

The Heartland Challenge RFP addresses the urgent need to grow and strengthen entrepreneurship support in the urban and rural areas of Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas.


The states of Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas – centered in the heart of America – often come with a picture in people’s minds when they think of the “Heartland.” Presently, around 80% of the population in each of these four states is white. The region’s story of grappling with racial injustice isn’t always one that is easy, comfortable, or one that provides a convenient narrative.


The Heartland Challenge RFP is focused on removing barriers to entrepreneurship regionally, with an end goal of creating a more vibrant and inclusive economic future for the region.

Yet, this region has a rich history born out of the struggles and successes of its indigenous peoples, migrants, the enslaved and free, as well as immigrants and refugees from all over the world – from Volga Germans and Vietnamese refugees, to the growing Latinx and Somali immigrant communities today.

For all who call Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas home, it is essential that each person has the opportunity to make or take a job, and for entrepreneurship to thrive in order to increase dynamism across the region.

This must be driven with equity in entrepreneurship support.

According to a landscape analysis by the University of Southern California, program for environmental and regional equity, between 2007 and 2012, businesses owned by people of color in Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas started at much higher rates than the general population, which means those businesses were responsible for the growth, or mitigated the decline, of all business growth and decline during those years.

Still, across all four states, businesses owned by people of color were shrinking. Compare that to population growth: people of color are responsible for population growth across all four states.

We have inequitable systems. We also have an opportunity to develop, catalyze, and expand inclusive programs, create communities of practice, and strengthen regional entrepreneurial ecosystems. Together, we can more effectively provide anyone willing to take the calculated risk to start something new, to innovate, even to “side hustle,” with the resources and support needed to define their own path to success – and along with them, the entire regional economy.

The urgency of place

Learning from previous investments – the great work we’ve been able to support across the country through the Inclusion Open – we see how focused support and communities of practice can break down barriers across this region to make a lasting impact on the economic opportunity for all its residents.

The Heartland states shares similar economies, challenges, and opportunities for entrepreneurial ecosystem growth, yet all four states struggle when it comes to diversifying their economies and competing with larger, more active ecosystems.

The only way we can regain momentum in the cities and rural areas of Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas is to work together to meet the challenges ahead of us.

We’re doubling down on investing in our own backyard – the place we know best – to try and create a widespread movement that places entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial ecosystems at the center of our regional renewal. 

This investment takes shape as the Heartland Challenge, an annual funding request for proposals that focuses on the current priorities in the Heartland.

The time, and place, is now for Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas, to claim their place as a diverse, innovative and prosperous region – a strong and beating heart in the middle of America.

This article was updated February 8, 2021.

This piece is part of the Foundation’s “Uncommon Voices” series, which features viewpoints from those working hard on issues that reduce racial inequity and support economic stability, mobility, and prosperity.