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November 10, 2022 | Tom Ballard

KEC launching “Small Town Entrepreneurship” initiative with USDA funding

The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) is launching a “Small Town Entrepreneurship” initiative and has hired a local entrepreneur to spearhead the effort.

Amelia Bartlett, whom we spotlighted in this recent article, will serve as KEC’s Rural Outreach Coordinator for the program that is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The additional funding will allow KEC to expand its existing efforts.

“We know there are thriving entrepreneurs and businesses in more rural East Tennessee communities,” said Bartlett, who added, “We want to meet them where they are with the resources they need, how they need them delivered.”

In a news release announcing the initiative, KEC wrote that small towns are the foundation of the country, and they are thriving by enhancing their access to nature and outdoor recreation, working to create vibrant downtowns, and instilling a sense of community in order to retain and attract talented people.

“Entrepreneurship is a cornerstone of those efforts,” KEC explained. “Entrepreneurs start businesses, create jobs, and launch products and services that serve their communities and create dynamic and innovative economies.”

For several years, KEC has worked with Memphis-based AgLaunch to run a summer bootcamp for ag-focused entrepreneurs, many from rural areas. A couple of years ago, the two organizations joined forces with Launch Tennessee on the “AgLaunch Mentor Network,” and there have been other KEC-led efforts such as the “Etsy Craft Entrepreneurship Program.” It was funded through a grant from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, and classes were offered in Sevierville and Cookeville, the latter in conjunction with The Biz Foundry.

Thanks to the grant from USDA, KEC will be able to expand its efforts in smaller communities and bring even more support and assistance to entrepreneurs looking to start or grow their businesses. The initial set of offerings for which specific dates and locations have not been set include CO.STARTERS, a business development program that helps aspiring and seasoned entrepreneurs put ideas into action; the “Etsy Craft Entrepreneurship Program,” “AgLaunch Mentor Network,” and something named the “GAN Accelerator Network” that offers one-on-one mentoring.

The “Small Town Entrepreneurship” website has a way to connect with KEC and indicate which of the programs would be most valuable.

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