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K-State Research and Extension
123 Umberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-3401

September 15, 2020

Business Owner Encourages Towns to ‘Grow Your Own Entrepreneurs’

Submitted by Pat Melgares

Deb Brown believes many of the best business ideas are already stewing in small communities across the country. They just need a little urging to come about.

“You already have 99% of everything you need,” said Brown, co-founder of Save Your Town, a consulting business that guides people toward making their small towns a better place to live.

Brown was the featured speaker recently during K-State Research and Extension’s monthly online series, First Friday e-Calls, which helps to nurture small businesses and inspire entrepreneurship in Kansas. Her talk was titled Growing Your Own Entrepreneurs.

“This is not a time where you need saving,” Brown told the online audience. “It’s a time to be creative, to work with each other and kick your community into ‘Idea Friendly’ gear.”

The concept, she notes, goes beyond a few members of a local board gathered in a room to make economic development decisions for the community. Instead, “it can now be everyone making your town even more special,” Brown said.

“You start with a big goal for your community, then use that goal to gather your crowd. Build connections to turn the crowd into a powerful network. Then work toward accomplishing that goal by taking small steps.”

Brown shared several stories of small communities across the United States that developed big ideas from modest starts. Some of those include:

A group of retired farmers in Akron, Iowa that started a business in a hospital basement to teach others how to use tools. Today, their work includes providing funds to youth who have an interesting business idea.

Residents in Columbiana, Ohio who are recruiting local artists to create beautiful murals of boarded up buildings or vacant areas. The idea helped lead to a community festival that brings dozens of visitors to town.

Residents in Concrete, Washington who used an empty lot for a community garden. They are now helping to feed hungry people, supply food for local restaurants and provide training for aspiring gardeners.

Numerous other ideas have taken advantage of empty buildings, vacant lots, green space, tiny market villages, tiny houses and other areas of town that may be abandoned but could adequately host a business idea. Existing business owners may be willing to provide unused space – perhaps even on the walls – where local entrepreneurs can display handmade or other items that they have for sale.

“What we don’t do is wait for somebody to tell us what to do,” Brown said.

“We have this idea that your town’s leaders are the venture capitalists of ideas. City councils have told us they get tired of people coming to them for money that they just don’t have. So, what if we flipped that idea on its head?”

“Your group, town council or others could come together to hear ideas from residents. Host this idea session at the local coffee shop or in the park, or maybe even at the local bar. Instead of offering money or telling them no, offer to give them connections that can help make their idea a reality.”

Brown’s full talk, Grow Your Own Entrepreneurs, and other First Friday presentations are available online from K-State Research and Extension.