Brown, Cass, Henderson, Schuyler & Warren Counties

Our Progress

Entrepreneurship Education is an important consideration for building a solid pipeline of new entrepreneurs for a region. Working with educational partners Carl Sandburg College, Spoon River College and University of Illinois Extension, each of the economic development organizations in these counties is working to create new local entrepreneurship education programming. Utilizing Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning (REAL), Unlevel® Guide for Enterprising Youth, and Going Solo curricula, a new series on entrepreneurship will be offered. Each of these curricula takes a hands-on approach to teaching core principles of products, marketing, operations, and financials essential to every business start-up.

The local community college is a terrific partner for this programming because of their current strength in dual credit programming for high school students and the large number of associate degree programs offered that have high probability for conversion into new business starts locally.

Recognition of Entrepreneurship as an Economic Development Strategy has become a reality in Knox County, through the creation of the Entrepreneurial Support Network (ESN), and Henderson and Warren counties are being included in this effort. In the State of Entrepreneurialism and Innovation in west central Illinois, the ESN outlined accomplishments in four core strategies:

  1. Build a Sustainable Network and Support Structure for Entrepreneurs
  2. Foster a Culture of Entrepreneurialism
  3. Develop a Comprehensive Delivery System of Programs and Services that Encourages Entrepreneurialism and Innovation
  4. Educate, Empower, and Engage Individuals, Organizations and Communities in Building the Entrepreneurial Spirit

This network of service providers is dedicated to the advancement of entrepreneurs, the promotion of innovation, and the development of an entrepreneurial culture.

Creating a culture that recognizes, supports, and celebrates entrepreneurs has been the focus of a number activities conducted on a regional level engaging economic development organizations, entrepreneurs and service providers from Henderson, Knox and Warren counties. One activity was the creation of the Entrepreneurs, Pioneers, and Innovators Club (EPIC). This club has been formed to provide existing and potential entrepreneurs with an opportunity to network, learn, and collaborate. Many of the club activities have been modeled after the Fairfield, Iowa Club example. Regional networking events have included Techfest, Guerrilla Marketing, Growing Your Own Business from Within; others have provided training on key strategies for economic development organizations to consider in support of entrepreneurship.

The ESN also sponsored “Eagle Awards,” created to recognize the contributions of entrepreneurs, organizations, and individuals who have made significant contributions towards the creation an entrepreneurial community. This will become an annual event, during Small Business Week in May, geared toward both recognizing and celebrating entrepreneurs.

Part of the celebration will include a newly developed publication "Soaring on Eagles Wings: Entrepreneurs of West Central Illinois." This publication will take a case study approach to highlight successful regional entrepreneurs, covering not only their personal stories, but resources and tools they utilized or wish were available when starting out. These stories highlight the importance of entrepreneurship to the local economy and create tremendous learning opportunities for potential new business starts in the region.

Another aspect of a supportive culture is providing information to help entrepreneurs access the right services at the right time. Schuyler County modified a publication and printed 300 copies of Where to Go for What: Navigating Business Services in Schuyler County, IL. The publication is a directory of local entrepreneurial coaching services for starting a business in Schuyler County. This publication presents a unique approach to supporting entrepreneurial development. While highlighting the many different organizations supporting entrepreneurs' growth and development, the publication provides advice on when to seek support of various agencies at the most appropriate stage of business development. The publication provides a critical link between service providers and entrepreneurs. The publication is distributed through the Schulyer County Economic Development Organization, banks, realtors, and is available online at Where to Go for What: Navigating Business Services in Schuyler County, IL.

Entrepreneur Business Retention Visits were conducted in Cass County. The visits were a valuable tool for learning more about entrepreneurs’ needs and interests. Sample survey questions are included under Resources on the Entrepreneurs page of this site so that you use or modify to make visits in your own community. Business visits are a great way to express appreciation and recognition for entrepreneurs at work in your community.

Brown, Cass, Henderson, Schuyler & Warren Counties