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$69M Boost: Program Aims to Support Kansas Entrepreneurs


By Pat Melgares, K-State Research and Extension News Service


MANHATTAN, Kan. – Officials with NetWork Kansas and the Kansas Department of Commerce said that a program funded for $69 million over the next nine years will help to strengthen the economic landscape for communities across Kansas.

In 2022, the U.S. Department of the Treasury made the award to Kansas to provide loans to entrepreneurs in the state who are seeking to start or expand a business. The program is known as GrowKS.

“It’s a really exciting program that is going to give Kansas entrepreneurs across the state more ways to access capital,” said Steve Radley, the CEO of NetWork Kansas, which is administering the program.

Radley and his colleagues were featured speakers during the Feb. 3 First Friday e-Call, a monthly online series hosted by K-State Research and Extension that helps to nurture small businesses and inspire entrepreneurship in Kansas. The online discussions, which routinely host dozens of Kansas citizens from the public and private sectors, are available free each month.

Imagene Harris, the vice president of impact investment services for NetWork Kansas, said GrowKS is “version 2.0” of a 2010 program in which Kansas received $13.8 million.

“To us, it’s really special in terms of providing access to resources now, and what we can build over time for small businesses in Kansas,” Harris said.

Of the $69 million that Kansas received, $42 million will go toward a loan program, and $27 million toward an equity program.

The five loan programs include:

  • Minority/women-led starter loans.
  • Rural/urban-distressed loans.
  • Minority/women-led growth loans.
  • Community asset loans.
  • Target sector loans.

“The GrowKS loan programs are seeking projects of all sizes that are focused on starting and growing businesses,” Harris said. “One of our goals this time around is to engage more partners statewide.

Currently, there are 37 authorized partners providing “due diligence across the state,” Harris said. “They include state certified development companies and authorized ‘Entrepreneurship Communities.’”

Since the launch of GrowKS in August, 2022, 23 businesses have been approved for loans, stretching from Hays to Kansas City, Kansas. More than $2 million has been approved, and $1.36 million already disbursed.

Trish Brasted, president of entrepreneurial growth ventures at NetWork Kansas, leads the equity fund programs available through GrowKS, which has approved $1.8 million to eight Kansas entrepreneurs.

She said the equity program is intended to provide capital for Kansas companies by providing matching funds. As with the loan program, it encourages proposals from women-led and minority businesses, though all Kansans are eligible.

Thus far, Brasted said, GrowKS has provided matching funds to businesses in numerous industries, including animal health, industrial technology, government, human resources, education, consumer products and agriculture. Seven of the eight awarded projects have fewer than 10 employees currently.

“We’re proud of that because our goal is to engage with startup businesses and help them grow jobs in the state,” Brasted said, noting that is also a focus of the U.S. Department of Treasury.

She adds: “The more people that know about these programs, the better. The GrowKS Angel Capital Support program will help startups over the next decade. So, the more we talk to people, the more opportunity we have to get them in the process and thinking about the things they want to start.”

Brasted said 29 NetWork Kansas partners are currently providing referrals, including local economic development organizations, commercialization centers, accelerators and entrepreneurial support organizations.

More information on GrowKS is available by sending email to [email protected], or by calling 877-521-8600.

The Feb. 3 talk and other First Friday presentations are available online from K-State Research and Extension.