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July 05, 2023 | Tom Ballard

KEC secures four-month extension for its “Small Town Entrepreneurship” initiative

The organization will continue to draw on the existing body of programming, while also hoping to build in additional workshops and classes, like a program titled “E(xpert) Commerce” for those who want to expand their presence on sites like Shopify and eBay.

Anything in which Amelia Bartlett decides to invest her time means it is a cause for which she is very passionate.

We quickly learned that about her a year ago when we met Bartlett during one of the sessions of the “Women’s Capital Series” hosted by the Let Her Speak nonprofit and subsequently during an interview for this article that was posted last October in Just days later, the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) announced that the Florida native who moved here from St. Petersburg six years ago was its new Rural Outreach Coordinator.

Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the “Small Town Entrepreneurship” initiative is being extended for another four months to provide additional opportunities to support entrepreneurs in rural areas.

“We have built momentum in rural communities,” Bartlett says. “We have served as a business and community resource, helping these communities spin up their own entrepreneurship programs beyond tourism.”

She’s particularly proud of the work underway in Claiborne and Grainger Counties that has gained good traction and points to a “business after hours” initiative in the latter that has gained good traction.

Since the launch in November, the “Small Town Entrepreneurship” initiative has offered two “CO.STARTERS” classes and two “Etsy Craft Entrepreneurship Programs.” The former is a business development program that helps aspiring and seasoned entrepreneurs put ideas into action, while the latter helps craft makers establish an online business to sell their products to a wider market and earn extra income.

KEC has also offered one value-added accelerator for agricultural producers that was developed in partnership with AgLaunch, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and the Center for Profitable Agriculture at the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture.

During the four-month extension that ends on October 31, KEC will continue to draw on that existing body of programming, while also hoping to build in additional workshops and classes that are informed by local needs or interests, such as a program titled “E(xpert) Commerce” for those who want to expand their presence on sites like Shopify and eBay.

As Bartlett and others on the KEC team plan for the three additional programs to wrap up work on the original grant, she’s also planning for the future of the program for which she will be a champion but not the day-to-day program lead.

“I want to help KEC find more funding through grants or other sources to keep the program going for another two to three years,” Bartlett says. She is a business consultant with a number of projects underway and has served as a part-time to KEC since the program was launched last November.

Describing herself as a “guest star,” Bartlett says the “Small Town Entrepreneurship” initiative needs a full-time leader, and she’s actively working to help find both funding and the right person once the initial dollars end.

“I’ve seen the genuine interest from people in these communities,” she says, adding, “I’ve always been so passionate about entrepreneurship. It is the American dream.”

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