Second of a three-part series on Hutchinson's economic vitality--- Conversations over coffee turned into a task force that aims to help Hutchinson start new businesses. The Entrepreneurship Task Force began at the end of the last year. The group contains a mixture of organizations, some already aimed at promoting new business, and individuals. This joint effort combines resources for the betterment of Reno County.
Conversations over coffee turned into a task force that aims to help Hutchinson start new businesses.
The Entrepreneurship Task Force began at the end of the last year. The group contains a mixture of organizations, some already aimed at promoting new business, and individuals. This joint effort combines resources for the betterment of Reno County.
“We want people to jump on board … that we can grow and nurture our own businesses rather than wait on a national or international business to come rescue us,” said Debra Teufel, president and CEO of the Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce.
Teufel said the group started with informal meetings in September. The Chamber, meanwhile, began exploring ways to use a vacant part of their building, 117 North Walnut as an incubator space — to provide entrepreneurs space and resources.
Since then, the group has grown to 15 people that represent several organizations, city and county officials and a state legislator.
In December, the cohort traveled to Tulsa to see a couple of successful incubator spaces — 36 Degrees North and Kitchen 66. Teufel worked with those at her previous job.
Rep. Jason Probst, D-Hutchinson, was encouraged by the trip.
“They didn’t have very specific ideas but created space where businesses can flourish,” Probst said. “We need to do something that will create a model that will work in Hutchinson.”
About incubator space
Incubators provide shared space to reduce the overhead for a business startup. An incubator also provides resources such as management training to help the business grow.
The idea is credited to Joseph Mancuso who started the first space in 1959. The incubator space model grew in the 1980s when universities began to back the idea. Wichita State University's Center for Entrepreneurship opened at its current location in 1987. Pittsburg State University is in the process of expanding its entrepreneurship program.
Study shows the need
Network Kansas commissioned the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Entrepreneurship to study Reno County.
The study, which cost approximately $2,000, showed county business gaps, demographic outlooks and ensured the need for such a task force.
“Our analysis supports that there is both opportunity and need for entrepreneur focused development,” the report said.
Ciara Thyfault, the manager of rural entrepreneurship for the Network Kansas central region, said the formation of the task force started after hearing the results of a conference call with the Nebraska organization.
“That’s my take,” she said.
Separate entities, same mission
Thyfault works closely with the Quest Center for Entrepreneurs to offer tax credits and loans for startups. Quest Center director Dave Dukart said the internet allowed the organization to become an “incubator without walls.”
Dukart, a member of the task force, didn’t think this duplicated the organization’s goal, but instead got various entrepreneurship resources working together.
“We want to make Reno County the center of entrepreneurship in the state of Kansas,” he said. “I guess we could even go worldwide if we want to. We’ll take little steps first.”
Future of the group
The task force made its first public announcement with a letter in the Feb. 4 edition of The News.
“Numerous innovators planted roots in Reno County, improved our quality of life, created jobs, and expanded to draw business and attention to our region,” the letter signed by members of the task force said. “So when national or international corporations choose to leave our community, the future is in our own, capable hands. That’s why we have joined together as an Entrepreneurship Task Force with the vision of providing an inclusive local system that inspires and supports innovators for a thriving economy.”
Those Hutchinson innovators include those who started Dillons grocery stores, Fee Insurance Group and the Lowen Corporation.
Dillons started in the 1890s and, eventually, became part of Kroger, which employs roughly 443,000 people. Fee Insurance Group opened in 1883 and now is a fourth-generation family business that's expanded to five Kansas markets. Mike Lowen began a sign and graphics company out of a converted garage behind his house, and the corporation bearing his name now operates four divisions in a 325,000-square foot space.
Teufel said the task force plans to hold either an entrepreneurship symposium or workshop. Any future incubator space doesn’t have to be at the Chamber. She said plenty of vacant buildings around town could make a “cool” space.
With combined resources of the Chamber, Quest Center for Entrepreneurs, Hutchinson Community Foundation, Downtown Hutchinson as well as individuals and city and county leaders, Teufel said attracting new ideas for business could power Hutchinson's future economy, although she added the city should still try to attract established companies.
“I think there is no doubt that entrepreneurs are the way of the future,” Teufel said. “There are people out there with great ideas, and sometimes they just need a little nurture to grow.”