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Creating ‘entrepreneurship culture’ among students can spur business growth, legislators told

by Laura Tomaka ~ August 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In a wide-ranging discussion that touched on ways to build the next generation of entrepreneurs and improve access to capital in rural areas, lawmakers at a July meeting of the Midwestern Legislative Conference Economic Development Committee learned of various state strategies that can help support job and business growth.
The committee was joined by a four-person panel of experts in economic development.
On entrepreneurship, lawmakers explored the value of exposing young people to the idea of starting new businesses. For example, a program at Iowa State University helps create a culture of entrepreneurship among participating students, and also assists student-initiated enterprises via training, consulting and experiential learning.
“It’s the experiential that matters; it’s where we see the most success,” said Judi Eyles, associate director of ISU’s John Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship. That doesn’t mean all or even many of these enterprises will get off the ground. But by exposing more students to entrepreneurship and then providing them with the tools they need, Eyles said, the state has a greater chance of building home-grown businesses. The university’s approach focuses more on technical assistance than on financial support.
But within the entrepreneurial community, one continuing challenge is finding the resources to start and sustain businesses. In recent years, traditional lending streams have “flatlined,” making it more difficult for startup businesses to access the capital they need, said Tony Toups, a partner with Advantage Capital. That is especially true of firms in rural and small communities, he added. (Toups’ firm specializes in investing in businesses located in traditionally underserved areas of a state.)
One policy response, then, is to incentivize private investments in entrepreneurs who hire people and build businesses in targeted rural areas and industries. Some states, for example, have begun offering tax credits to these investors in new businesses in rural areas.
Beyond access to capital, local support and an understanding of the value of entrepreneurs can help new businesses thrive, said John Beranek, a community coach with Dakota Resources, which works to build the development capacity of rural communities in South Dakota. It’s important for these entrepreneurs not to suffer from isolation in these communities, he said, and also to connect them to existing state resources.
Under the Grow Minnesota! initiative, that state’s Chamber of Commerce tries to help by taking a personalized approach: talking to individual business owners about what they need to succeed and then offering follow-up assistance. This customized support could be a model used by states themselves, said Bill Blazar, the Minnesota chamber’s senior vice president of public affairs and business development.


Article written by Laura Tomaka, staff liaison to the Midwestern Legislative Conference Economic Development Committee.