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Catalyzing entrepreneurial ecosystems in the Heartland

The Heartland Challenge grantees will work to solve for specific challenges entrepreneurs in the region face, and will participate in facilitated, peer-learning communities of practice to share knowledge across the region.

The Heartland region – Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas – holds a great deal of entrepreneurial promise. However, entrepreneurs face significant challenges as they seek to start and grow businesses in these four states. The Heartland Challenge is an opportunity to develop, catalyze, and expand inclusive programs, create communities of practice, and strengthen regional entrepreneurial ecosystems.

The Kauffman Foundation selected 17 organizations from across the region to receive funding through The Heartland Challenge. This portfolio of grantees will work to solve for specific challenges entrepreneurs in the region face, and will participate in facilitated, peer-learning communities of practice to share knowledge across the region.

Grantees will work in one of the three following challenges:

Challenge 1: Co-creating objective, milestone-based entrepreneurship training programs to mitigate the impact of implicit bias faced by entrepreneurs from communities systemically left behind.

Challenge 2:  Addressing rural business transfer opportunities by providing education on models of shared business ownership, including business cooperatives.

Challenge 3: Building cross-university programs that increase knowledge related to securing research and development funding, and commercializing available technology in order to start new businesses

“Entrepreneurship represents an opportunity for this region to reverse a decades-long trend of economic decline,” Melissa Roberts Chapman, senior program officer in Entrepreneurship, said. “Creating more equitable ecosystems, revitalizing rural communities and accelerating IP-driven business creation are three things we can do to ensure that starting a business in the Heartland isn’t harder than it has to be. In fact, 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.”

As we move to more regionally focused work, we have an opportunity to understand how entrepreneur support organizations (ESOs) can work more effectively to help more entrepreneurs in the region succeed.

Meet the 17 organizations whose projects will be funded:

Challenge 1: Co-creating objective, milestone-based entrepreneurship training programs to mitigate the impact of implicit bias faced by entrepreneurs from communities systemically left behind

  • BioSTL | Support for the expansion of their entrepreneur education program, Fundamentals, to better engage women, Black, Latinx, or foreign-born entrepreneurs in STEM business creation.
  • Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas | Support to develop an education and mentorship program designed to help agriculture-related, refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs participating in the New Roots for Refugee program scale and prepare their businesses for outside investment.
  • Center for Rural Affairs | Support to launch a statewide entrepreneurship academy, bias training, and mentorship program for rural entrepreneurs.
  • Credit and Homeownership Empowerment Services | Support for expanding the Porter House KC’s place-based model for providing retail entrepreneur support in the Troost Corridor neighborhood.
  • The Directors Council | Support to increase the operational and marketing capacity of the organization’s entrepreneurship bootcamps in order to strengthen their financial education offerings and serve more counties in Iowa.
  • Jane Boyd Community House | Support to enhance and expand the organization’s entrepreneur education program, Empower, to better serve entrepreneurs from communities systemically left behind in Eastern Iowa.
  • Lincoln University | Support for new and existing businesses in central Missouri through the Small Business Development Center’s entrepreneur education program, Launch U.
  • Seward County Community College | Support for the launch of the SW Kansas Entrepreneurship Center to provide customized entrepreneurship education to rural and immigrant entrepreneurs in the region.
  • The State of St. Louis Foundation | Support to expand the St. Louis Regional Chamber’s Diverse Business Accelerator to serve a greater number of small businesses owned by women and people of color.

Challenge 2: Addressing rural business transfer opportunities by providing education on models of shared business ownership, including business cooperatives

  • Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska | Support for the University of Nebraska Extension to launch a statewide program to assist rural entrepreneurs in considering cooperative business models and provide education on business transition to existing business owners.
  • Kansas State University | Support for the expansion of the KSU Center for Engagement and Community Development in order to offer educational services on cooperative business models and transition planning for independent grocery store owners.
  • Missouri Western State University | Support for the launch of the Regional Economic Vitality Consortium to expand their entrepreneurship education programming across a 23-county region in NE Kansas and NW Missouri.
  • University of Northern Iowa Foundation | Support to launch the Iowa Business Transition Center to educate rural entrepreneurs on cooperative business models and transition planning.

Challenge 3: Building cross-university programs that increase knowledge related to securing research and development funding, and commercializing available technology in order to start new businesses

  • Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska | Support for the creation of a program to provide technical assistance to improve federal research and development grant applications from universities in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa.
  • Curators of the University of Missouri | Support for the administration of an inter-university task force that will work to identify best-practices in engaging faculty, researchers and students in the commercialization process, and create a plan to implement those practices.
  • Iowa State University Foundation | Support for the creation of a coordinated educational event series across John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers in Iowa to better prepare university-affiliated entrepreneurs for launch and investment.
  • Wichita State University | Support for the convening and administration of a multi-university task force to improve the leveraging of federal research and development grants across Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa.