Five regional organizations announced April 29, at west central Missouri’s “5th Monday” community economic development luncheon, that they have joined forces to grow the region’s economy by strengthening support to rural entrepreneurs.

Start Here is a new, regional, business acceleration network focused on increasing the rate and success of business startups along with providing support to existing and growing businesses. It will partner further with the statewide entrepreneur support organization MOSourceLink to leverage resources beyond west central Missouri.

Founding Start Here regional partners are:

  • New Growth community development corporation
  • West Central Missouri Community Action Agency
  • Kaysinger Basin Regional Planning Commission
  • St. Clair County Economic Development
  • University of Missouri Extension
  • Small Business Development Center at State Fair Community College

Start Here joins a growing national “entrepreneurial ecosystem building” movement focused on re-starting the economic engine of small business. This work ensures businesses of any type and stage can find the resources they need when they need them. It includes increasing the community’s involvement in forging entrepreneurs’ success, such as mentoring new businesses and buying local when feasible.

“Our rural region has everything it needs, from talented and resourceful people to beautiful places where people want to live,” said Chris Thompson, president and CEO of West Central Missouri Community Action Agency and its affiliate New Growth. “Start Here is about pulling together our collective resources and shared will to succeed.”

Need and Opportunity. New and young companies are the primary source of job creation in the U.S. economy. Yet the rate of new business formation nationally has plummeted, falling by half since the late 1970s (Economic Innovation Group).

Start Here focuses on business formation and growth because the economy relies on the businesses that startups become and the jobs they create.

  • According to Missouri Department of Economic Development, 99.4 percent of all Missouri businesses in 2018 were small businesses.
  • Nearly half, or 47 percent, of Missouri’s private workforce is employed at small businesses (1-50 employees).

“Addressing small businesses needs is what we do, and what Start Here will help us do more of,” said Kelly Asbury, director of the Missouri Small Business Development Center at State Fair Community College. “Through a partnership with U.S. Small Business Administration, University of Missouri Extension and State Fair Community College, we are able to offer no-cost business consulting and low-cost training for small business owners and entrepreneurs at any stage.”

Ron Antonini’s Salad Farm in Bolivar is an example of an entrepreneur moving successfully through successive stages of business, from farmers’ market to wholesale. The new Start Here network will focus on making sure all types of businesses in west central Missouri succeed by helping them find the right resources at the right time.

It Works. The Start Here approach is to combine such business counseling with many other supports needed, such as technical training and peer-to-peer networking events for finding business mentors and partners.

The network’s partnership with MOSourceLink, and its state- and nationwide partners, will help west central Missouri reach even further. The MOSourceLink connection will allow the region to tap into resources it may not yet have, such as startup micro-financing options.

Rural and urban regions across the country are producing results with the entrepreneurial ecosystem building approach. For example:

  • RURAL: NetWork Kansas is a state initiative grounded in the work of building “entrepreneurial communities” across rural Kansas. Since its start in 2005, Network Kansas has grown into a network of 61 E-Communities. Through 2013, Network Kansas contributed to 1,017 full-time jobs created or saved and 816 part-time jobs created or saved (e2 Entrepreneurial Ecosystems).
  • URBAN: KCSourceLink is the entrepreneurial ecosystem building initiative in the Kansas City region. It reports that Kansas City startups generated approximately 80,000 net new jobs from 2013 to 2017. This is more than half, 57 percent, of all net new jobs in the Kansas City region. (

Next Steps
Start Here will follow proven steps for building a robust and responsive system of technical support and community encouragement across all business types and stages. Four steps in the ecosystem building process are:

  • Identify — The network will pull together existing resources and assets.
  • Connect — Start Here will make those resources easy to find and use.
  • Empower — Partners will collaborate to solve problems and fill gaps.
  • Measure — Start Here will gauge effectiveness and tell the story.

Start Here is going to be a powerful tool in our toolbox,” said Sheridan Garman-Neeman, executive director, Kaysinger Basin Regional Planning Commission. “We will be able to connect businesses to a wider array of resources to help them grow and expand.”

This effort will include the clearinghouse power and collaboration building support of MOSourceLink. It collects and promotes entrepreneur resources from across the state, including a hotline that businesses can use to find their next step, clear their next challenge, and reach their next milestone.

Start Here is all about creating the correct environment for the success of the entrepreneur,” said Wayne Prewitt, regional director of University of Missouri Extension. “We can bring education and knowledge to the table. We also want to help communities understand where they are and help them reach their goals through entrepreneurial development.”

Start Here meets regularly. Founding partners will co-sponsor future 5th Monday events.

To  learn more or get involved, contact Start Here convener New Growth at <info>.