Getting Started

Putting Learning Into Practice

All of the pilot counties have taken important steps toward building entrepreneurial communities. The examples below will help you better understand how the leaders in these rural communities put learning into practice:

  • Be E Focused – Each county produced Where to Go For What: Navigating Business Services in ____ County. Based upon the work of the North Carolina Rural Entrepreneurship Development System (EDS) collaborative and developed by Erik Pages (EntreWorks Consulting), the publication was adapted to provide new and existing entrepreneurs a directory of support services in each county, as well as tips and information regarding all phases of entrepreneurship development. Another way of being E focused is to be responsive to the needs of your community’s entrepreneurs. For example, the City of Galesburg created the Business Innovation Grant Program (BIG) in recognition of the need for micro and mini loans to foster entrepreneurship. In both 2009 and 2010, the City of Galesburg committed $50,000 in grant dollars to assist entrepreneurs operating in Galesburg to expand, enhance, or start businesses. Six awards were made in 2009, which facilitated the creation of four new businesses, and the enhancement of two others. Two other examples from Adams County include the Quincy Artist Relocation Program, targeting local and outside artists to move into and help revitalize portions of the downtown area, and Live Local, supporting independently-owned businesses in the community through a “support local” campaign.
  • Encourage Networking – In both formal and informal ways, these counties have taken steps to establish and encourage entrepreneur networking. BizLink in Hancock County and EPIC (Entrepreneurs, Pioneers and Innovators Club) in Knox demonstrate more formal networking structures. The networking events sponsored by the Entrepreneurship Task Force of the Tri-State Summit provide a less formal way for entrepreneurs to both learn and network.
  • Engage Young People – Entrepreneurship education, targeted to young people, is the predominant way that these counties are beginning to engage youth. Counties have introduced students and teachers to existing entrepreneurship curricula, including Going Solo, REAL (Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning) and NXLevel® Guide for Enterprising Youth.

    In Pike County, all three curricula will be combined to create a new series on entrepreneurship that will be offered in fall of 2010 in Pittsfield. Each of these curricula take a hands-on approach to teaching core principles of products, marketing, operations, and financials essential to every business start up. Some counties have introduced contests, such first annual Youth Business Plan Competition in the spring of 2010 supported by the Entrepreneurial Support Network (ESN) in Knox County. Winners in both the ninth and tenth grade category as well as the eleventh and twelfth grade category received a cash award, plaque, and a scholarship to the Eastern Illinois University eCamp. The awards are presented at the Small Business Award Luncheon, together with the adult Eagle Award Winners, giving the youth an opportunity to mingle with entrepreneurs – their potential role models.
  • Create “No Wrong Door” – One of the most important things these counties have done is try to make it easier for entrepreneurs to gain access to the right services, at the right time. One of the ways this is being put into practice is through the creation of service provider networks, like the Entrepreneurial Support Network (ESN) in Knox County.

    Although this network originated in Knox County, it has expanded to include Henderson, Mercer and Warren counties. The group includes nine different entrepreneurship service providers including local economic development organizations, educational groups, workforce investment boards, and entrepreneurs. Their goals include hosting year round networking opportunities for entrepreneurs, increasing awareness of entrepreneur contributions, and expanding educational programming for youth and adults fostering entrepreneurial talent throughout the region. Another way to create stronger collaboration across service providers is through partnering – joining together to offer programs, sponsor competitions and otherwise advocate for entrepreneurship as a development strategy. All of the counties have made great strides in forming new and strengthening existing partnerships.

    One example is the work on entrepreneurship education in Adams County that has brought together the resources and leaders from John Wood Community College (JWCC), Quincy University and Quincy High School, in partnership with Great River Economic Development Foundation and University of Illinois Extension (UIE). Similar education partnerships have been formed in Pike County with JWCC, UIE and the Pike County Economic Development Corporation. Pike County’s Incubator facility will be served by a partnership of organizations that can provide support to entrepreneur tenants – IL Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Quincy Entrepreneurship Center, and Western Illinois University’s Small Business Development Center.
  • Celebrate Entrepreneurs – Too often, we don’t take the time to celebrate our small successes, just like we overlook the entrepreneurs and small business owners that are the backbones of our communities. The pilot communities are trying to turn this around by celebrating both their achievements, and the success of their entrepreneurs. The ESN in Knox County sponsored Eagle Awards during Small Business Week in May 2010. These awards recognize the contributions of entrepreneurs, organizations, and individuals who make significant contributions toward the creation of an entrepreneurial community. This will become an annual event, 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. Another part of celebration is outreach – getting your message out to the broader community about your work and the importance of supporting entrepreneurs.

    Two examples of this outreach effort are the State of Entrepreneurialism and Innovation in West Central Illinois report developed by Knox County and the Entrepreneurship Task Force of the Tri-State Summit’s new website for regional entrepreneurs and the organizations that support them.