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Regional initiative seeks to support entrepreneurs

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Organizers behind a new program designed to leverage innovation and entrepreneurship in southwest Missouri want more participants to take advantage of free services funded through a $250,000 state grant.

The Missouri Technology Corp. awarded the grant in June to Missouri State University’s Efactory business incubator. The Missouri Building Entrepreneurial Capacity program grant was given to the university based on the pitch Efactory made to the state organization’s investment committee, said MTC Executive Director Jack Scatizzi.

“We fund the most attractive grant proposals that we receive,” Scatizzi said, noting the Efactory grant is earmarked for Supercharge Southwest Missouri.

The initiative is a partnership between the Efactory and the Missouri Small Business Development Center at MSU to address entrepreneurial challenges in the region because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Efactory Executive Director Rachel Anderson said the program provides support to participants anywhere in southwest Missouri.   

“Through the grant-funded program, participants unlock access to no-cost resources including business consulting, executive-level mentorship networks, on-demand training and office hours with attorneys, accountants and other professionals,” Anderson said via email. “Providing these resources is critical not only to the creation and sustainability of new businesses but also to our entire region’s long-term economic sustainability.”

Anderson said over 60 organizations, including Arvest Bank, Mercy Springfield Communities and SRC Holdings Corp., have signed on as supporters to provide resources and support services to participants.

“We just launched and will be able to share more about individuals and companies benefitting from the initiative as the on-demand training program is launched,” she said regarding the number of entrepreneurs or business owners utilizing the program.

Services that are now available include meeting with an expert consultant, business mentor or professional service provider.

Anderson said the companies that are currently volunteering time for initial 30-minute meetings with entrepreneurs and business owners are The Bank of Missouri, BKD LLP, and law firms Carnahan, Evans, Cantwell & Brown PC and Husch Blackwell LLP. All meetings are being held virtually amid the pandemic.

“The on-demand training program curriculum is in development and will be launching in the coming months,” Anderson said.

The program’s website notes the curriculum will cover topics such as marketing and sales, financial management and growing a business team.

Dallas County Economic Development Group and the Economic Development Alliance for Bolivar and Polk County are among the program’s supporters. Leaders from both organizations signed letters of support in November 2020 for the Efactory when it applied for the grant.

Gail Noggle, executive director of the Polk County organization, said she discussed Supercharge Southwest Missouri at the Oct. 14 Bolivar Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. She considers organizations such as hers to be “gatekeepers” in work with the initiative beyond Springfield.

“We are just starting now to get the word out,” she said, noting it was her first public presentation of the program. “People have to realize, too, that you’re not going to have people banging down your doors on this. This is very sensitive information that you’re dealing with. That’s why MSU and Efactory have to rely on the region and the surrounding communities. Most of these businesses and entrepreneurs are going to feel more comfortable if they have that gatekeeper who is somebody local in their community.”

Noggle and Hollie Elliott, executive director of the Dallas County Economic Development Group, said no financial commitment was required for their organizations to be a program supporter.

“We were able to submit the actual professional hours that myself and my assistant would contribute to the program. That was calculated into an in-kind service to the program,” Noggle said, noting it was valued at $10,000 over 18 months.

Elliott said the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a reset for some people previously considering starting a business venture to act now. Supercharge Southwest Missouri is a good resource for those unsure where to begin, she said.

“It is challenging, to say the least, to start a business. In rural communities, perhaps it’s even more challenging because those kinds of resources may not feel so readily available,” Elliott said.

“Accessing that help and guidance can be really important but also can be challenging. This also removes the cost to those resources, which can be another barrier.”

While Elliott said she’s recently discussed the program with several interested undisclosed entrepreneurs in Dallas County, they are yet to seek out services.

The virtual component to the program is an appealing factor for those in rural communities who may not have time to attend meetings out of town, she said.

“We can set up a virtual opportunity for you here in the community so that you’re not taking time off to go to Springfield,” Elliott said.

While grant funding will end in two years, Anderson said the intent is to eventually seek financial support for the program beyond 2023.

“We just received this grant award and are committed to delivering on it,” she said.

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