by Tyler Hale
The Conductor has landed a new grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation that will enable it to expand its reach in rural counties in Arkansas, as well as hire program officers within these areas.
Founded by the late entrepreneur and Kansas City Royals owner Ewing Marion Kauffman, the Kauffman Foundation aims to give entrepreneurs who have been disadvantaged by “demographic, socioeconomic and geographic barriers” a more level playing field. One of the tools it uses is the Inclusion Open Grants, which are awarded to organizations that have proven records of aiding entrepreneurs.
For 2019, the Kauffman Foundation awarded grants to 19 organizations, including the Conductor. During this year’s cycle, the foundation received more than 700 applications. See the full list of organizations here.
With the new grant, the Conductor will be creating the 10X Rural Growth initiative, a program structured off its existing 10x Growth Accelerator. The new program will be launched in six regions across Central Arkansas, impacting 11 counties and 19 Opportunity Zones.
The new program is designed to impact “historically underserved” – in regards to entrepreneurship – regions in Arkansas, according to Conductor Executive Director Kim Lane. The counties the program will serve include Cleburne, Conway, Faulkner, Johnson, Logan, Lonoke, Pope, Pulaski, Van Buren, White, and Yell. These counties will fit into six regions: Central (Conway and Faulkner counties), North (Van Buren and Cleburne), Northwest (Pope and Johnson), Southwest (Yell and Logan), Northeast (White) and East (Lonoke and Pulaski).
Feedback from the 10X Growth Accelerator spurred the idea for the 10X Rural Growth initiative. Lane says the accelerator has received strong feedback and had measurable impact on Arkansas’ economy, but it was requiring many participants to drive long distances to attend meetings in Conway.
“We identified that this was a barrier, a geographic barrier,” Lane says. The new program is a way of “meeting entrepreneurs where they are.”
The Kauffman grant will also complement a Small Business Administration grant the Conductor received earlier this year. This grant enabled the organization to expand its programs to rural areas and provide resources and services to these areas.
Both grants are expanding access to Arkansas’ entrepreneurial ecosystem, Lane says, and eliminating geographic barriers. “We’ll have people in their backyard, instead of asking them to drive to us,” she says.
Each 10X Rural Growth initiative cohort will consist of five to 10 companies. The program will provide five weeks of structured curriculum, followed by one-on-one mentorship and coaching.
One company in each cohort will be awarded a marketing grant at the conclusion of the program. These grants, funded by the Conductor, will go toward a marketing package, including a new website, Facebook page and logo.
“The impact that the Conductor will make in rural central Arkansas because of the Kauffman Inclusion Open is unprecedented,” said Tiffany Henry, Rural Director of the Conductor. “Because of this generous award, we are able to reduce barriers to rural entrepreneurs by providing direct delivery of our proven growth curriculum to the areas that need it most. I am especially excited for the new jobs that will be created by not only the scaling companies, but also the Regional Managers who will be hired to coordinate the 10X Rural Growth initiative.”
Work on the program is ongoing, and Lane says more details will be revealed soon. “We’re hoping to get the ball rolling soon…and hit the ground running,” Lane says.
In addition, the Conductor will be hiring Rural Growth Program Officers who will provide targeted assistance in rural areas.
“This Grant is pivotal for the entire state of Arkansas,” Lane said in a statement. “With this funding, the Conductor will not only bring unprecedented support to small businesses around the state; we will also be hiring subject matter experts who will deliver the Conductor’s programming in underserved areas. We are truly implementing the proverbial approach of ‘teaching a man to fish’ rather than ‘giving a man a fish.’ Through the Inclusion Open Grant, we are equipping communities with the skills and tools they need to support and catalyze business growth in their hometowns, which will in turn lead to more business starts and growth. It is the economic development version of the ‘gift that keeps on giving.’”