Energizing Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Originally published on 10/11’s Pure Nebraska Program

A statewide initiative known as Energizing Entrepreneurial Ecosystems continues to strengthen six Greater Nebraska hometowns. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and Nebraska Public Power District, Nebraska Community Foundation, NetWork Kansas, and e2 Entrepreneurial Ecosystems helped launch this statewide initiative.

In Red Cloud, the local ecosystem is centered around agriculture. While folks in Red Cloud are more than happy to embrace those farm roots, they are also learning to harness heritage tourism through local resources. “Such as the National Willa Cather Center and all of the historic sites associated with her,” Heritage Tourism Development Director Jarrod McCartney said. “We have more sites dedicated to an author than any other place in the country, maybe even the world.” The E3 Initiative through Nebraska Community Foundation is helping people get the conversation started when it comes to developing local entrepreneurship in places like Red Cloud. “For instance, we are building a brand new boutique hotel downtown, and what we need to make that successful is to have allied businesses who will provide the sort of amenities that our visitors want, but also produce the quality of life our residents deserve,” McCartney said. “I think E3 will give us the tools to achieve that vision.”

In Sidney, there is plenty of pride in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. “We are so grateful to Cabela’s and all that they’ve brought here,” G.L. Huyett Vice President of Marketing and Technology Sarah Sinnett said. “As a result of that, we have a really strong ecosystem now, and it’s continuing to thrive after the company’s buyout.” Local leaders say the community is strengthened by a great school system. “I have two elementary students now, and they actually cry the last day of school every year because they love school so much. We have amazing teachers, we have an amazing curriculum, and it challenges them every day. Our secondary and high school system has really transformed things, that it’s not just a bell-to-bell mentality, or that you have to be in this class at this time. They realize there are a lot of different ways to educate children and have enriched experiences.”

In Sidney, the E3 project is teaching locals to think even bigger. “We have gotten tremendous support from the other communities involved in this, to teach us about what we could be doing, or what’s successful in their towns,” Sinnett said. “Then, just the mentorships we’ve gotten from Nebraska Community Foundation. I’m constantly getting guidance and coaching.”

Communities involved with the E3 project are setting their sights on the future with hopes and dreams. In Sidney, one goal is to create a source for sustainable funding to support entrepreneurs. Another long-term goal is to build a support system for a young local person who wants to start a business. “Say they did not necessarily want to leave town,” Sinnett said. “Maybe they wanted to invest back in their community. Say they had a really strong business plan. Maybe we could grant them money like a scholarship, not to necessarily to go on to more school, but to launch their business.”

Those involved with E3 are excited to continue learning what it takes to continue supporting entrepreneurship. “I think this whole E3 project is doing a great job of connecting economic development professionals with entrepreneurs, so that they can learn to navigate things,” McCartney said. “I think we get in our heads a lot that we are a small town, and we can’t do that,” Sinnett said. “The sky’s actually the limit is what they’ve taught us. That with a dream and some really amazing individuals, you can accomplish anything.”

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