Local entrepreneurial support program established

December 5th, 2015

News Coverage:

Local entrepreneurial support program established
By Makenzie Holland; Posted Saturday December 5, 2015 1:59 pm

Three local entities have partnered and established an entrepreneurial support program designed to provide assistance in a collaborative way to area business minds.

The Economic Development Group of Wabash County (EDG), local insurance and risk management firm INGUARD and Manchester University have established "Entrepreneurs EDG," a program open to small business owners, MU students, business professionals and individuals with interests in business. 
The goal of the program, according to a press release about the program, is to provide students with real-world business experience, encourage social entrepreneurialism in the area and coach small business owners on establishing and launching viable business models, developing marketing campaigns, creating new product lines and more.

The release added that, "services will be offered to entrepreneurs at varying stages of development, from startup concepts to existing businesses, organizations and causes."

The idea to have an entrepreneurial support group in the area came with the arrival of Keith Gillenwater, president and CEO of the EDG of Wabash County, when he started working with the EDG late last year.

"When I started in Wabash back in January, one of the main goals that I wanted to accomplish was setting up an entrepreneurial support program," Gillenwater said. "So I started working on that shortly after I started to figure out what pieces were here and what we needed to do to try to make a support system available."

Gillenwater said he reached out to the Community Foundation of Wabash County, which directed him to Professor Joe Messer, who is the Mark E. Johnston Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at MU.

"I invited him to breakfast and our breakfast meeting turned into a two-and-a-half hour meeting," Gillenwater said. "We started talking about this program and what it could look like."

This past fall, Gillenwater said, they used Messer's Fall 2015 Sales and Entrepreneurship class to "kind of help flesh out" the program. Gillenwater said the endeavor helped him see what a partnership with the university could look like through utilizing their students, who would be getting "real-world experience" by participating in their support program.

Throughout the semester, teams of students in the class "researched, developed and executed strategies specifically tailored to the needs of participating entrepreneurial ventures," according to the release.

"I'm thrilled to be involved with the development of Entrepreneurs EDG," Messer said in the release. "This program will expose our students to the inner workings of business and challenge them to think creatively when solving real-world problems. The lessons they stand to learn from Entrepreneurs EDG go beyond a textbook and will be invaluable to their development as future entrepreneurs and business leaders."

As Messer and Gillenwater worked on the program, Gillenwater said they invited INGUARD CEO Parker Beauchamp to address the class.

"Parker has an entrepreneurial spirit with INGUARD and as a social entrepreneur as well," Gillenwater said. "Immediately we could tell sitting in that class, the two of us and the students and Professor Messer, that there was a connection there and that we all thought there could be something big coming out of it."

Fast-forward a couple months, Gillenwater said, and Entrepreneurs EDG has now come into existence.

"Our hope is that by this time next year, in the basement of INGUARD, we will have a new co-working space in which to, not only work with entrepreneurs we have in this community, but a partnership with the university, with students," he said. "It's just exciting."

In an e-mail to the Plain Dealer, Beauchamp said partnering with the EDG and MU "was an easy decision for (him)."

"I was invited to speak a couple of times in Professor Messer's class and loved the opportunity it gave me to connect with students, share my experiences and be a part of the academic setting," Beauchamp said. "And, as an entrepreneur, business owner and active member of our community, I'm all too familiar with the exceptional work EDG does in Wabash County for startups and relocating businesses."

Each of the partnering organizations and its leaders, Beauchamp added, "will provide essential resources and expertise needed to provide students and participating businesses with a truly unique experience."

Gillenwater said anyone who has a business idea or has a small business and is looking for assistance can participate in the program.

"A small business owner that is trying to figure out a new product line they want to offer, someone who needs marketing assistance, somebody who has an idea, but they're not quite sure what the next step is to take to protect it, we've got various professionals, various resources, to tap into what the core root of the issue is," Gillenwater said.

The plan, Gillenwater said, is for INGUARD to house the program in a collaborative workspace within the building, which will feature high-tech equipment and resources. The space is scheduled to be built within the firm starting in the spring of 2016.

"INGUARD is a great place and it's a great partner," Gillenwater said. "They have a beautiful facility that's current and modern and the fact that they're willing to partner with us and make that sort of space and environment available for these entrepreneurs is a huge deal. You can't really understate how important that is."

Beauchamp said he believes this workspace is a "critical element to the program."

"Establishing the program in a business will expose students to a real-world work environment and have access to professionals on INGUARD's staff," Beauchamp said. "By dedicating a space to Entrepreneurs EDG, INGUARD can provide program participants with a state-of-the art collaboration workspace and a place to hold business meetings."

Beauchamp said INGUARD will bear 100 percent of the costs associated with the build-out, equipment and operation in order to "deliver students and business entrepreneurs with exceptional resources."

For now, as the space hasn't been built yet, Gillenwater said the program will be offered at the EDG's offices on the second floor of Wabash City Hall.

"If there's an entrepreneur out there who would like some assistance, the program is up and running right now," Gillenwater said. "But the physical space at INGUARD, that won't be available until next fall."

Gillenwater said a goal is to offer the program and services free of charge to the community.

Thinking back on the development process, Gillenwater said Entrepreneurs EDG wouldn't have been a possibility without INGUARD and MU's assistance and support.

"It wouldn't have happened without INGUARD and the university buying into the concept and believing it and seeing the vision that I had as well," he said.

Beauchamp said he sees "so much potential" in Wabash, his hometown, and wants "to help the region continue to thrive."

"I am completely invested in the economic growth and success of Wabash County, our businesses and organizations, and the families and individuals within it," Beauchamp said. "I see Entrepreneurs EDG as a way to help fuel business and growth of new leadership within our community."

Gillenwater, in agreement with Beauchamp, sees encouraging entrepreneurship in the area as a vital part of growing the community.

"Local businesses and entrepreneurs who start a business here, and they're supported here and they're nurtured here, stay here," Gillenwater said. "It's as simple as I can put it. Those businesses that receive support from the community, from local leaders, they are the kind that are likely to stay here for the long haul."

To the three partnering organizations responsible for establishing Entrepreneurs EDG, they believe the possibilities are endless.

"Who knows how many businesses and lives will be changed by this program," Beauchamp said. "We have an opportunity to truly make an impact, to give entrepreneurial-minded individuals the information, resources and opportunities necessary to expand, start, or relocate businesses to Wabash County."