Renewing Wichita’s Entrepreneurial Spirit

Barry Schwan 2016 Chamber Chairman

Barry Schwan
2016 Chamber Chairman

By Barry Schwan
Owner, House of Schwan, Inc.
2016 Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce

If you’ve followed the work of Wichita native and economic analyst James Chung, you’ve heard him outline the four challenges facing Wichita. One of those is the Entrepreneurship Challenge. Chung’s findings indicate that Wichita is behind the curve in startup density and venture capital investments. He’s challenged Wichita to “move the needle” on entrepreneurship and drive innovation forward as we’ve done in the past.

The Chamber appreciates the efforts of two business leaders who are helping Wichita move the needle on entrepreneurship. As co-chairs of the Entrepreneurship Task Force (ETF), Gary Oborny (Occidental Management) and Scott Schwindaman (Lubrication Engineers) have spearheaded an inclusive approach to strengthening our entrepreneurial ecosystem. Through their efforts, we’ve seen the emergence of e2e (Entrepreneur to Entrepreneur), a new nonprofit initiative where experienced area entrepreneurs are offering mentoring, seed money and programming to startups and scalable business ventures (see e2ewichita.com).

In addition to their involvement in ETF, both Oborny and Schwindaman are members of the Chamber board of directors. Schwindaman will take over the helm as Chamber chairman in 2017. A past Chamber chairman, Wayne Chambers (High Touch Technologies), recently donated a prime downtown location to launch the e2e Accelerator. It’s at that new site that John Dascher, President/CEO of e2e, and Accelerator Director Jacob Wayman have assembled a team who are working daily to recharge Wichita’s entrepreneurship environment.

Awareness was the first step taken by Oborny, Schwindaman and others to face Wichita’s entrepreneurship challenge. They started convening nearly 40 different organizations on a biweekly basis nearly three years ago to focus attention on the most pressing needs of our entrepreneurs and the gaps in our support of them. Our hats are off to the many loyal supporters who are still a part of that movement in the Wichita region.

One of those partners has been the Wichita district of the Small Business Administration (SBA). Entrepreneurs must have access to capital, and it was reported in August that SBA expects to achieve a near-record lending total of $85 million in fiscal year 2016 (ending September 30). That’s up more than 15% from $72.3 million in 2015. Wichita SBA Director Wayne Bell attributes the increase in lending to more awareness about the variety of financing tools available to startups. That’s a very positive step in the right direction.

We’re also impressed with some of the partnerships that private companies are undertaking. GroundWork is a startup incubator housed in the new offices of Builders Plus Construction in downtown Wichita. Builders Plus Construction CEO Chris Callen believes that entrepreneurism is the key to Wichita’s future and he’s committed to housing early-stage startups who are working collaboratively in the new space.

To further energize Wichita’s entrepreneurial spirit, the Chamber has secured one of the most sought after entrepreneurial experts in the country to speak at our December 1 Annual Meeting. As a major investor on ABC’s Emmy-winning Shark Tank series, Daymond John has invested more than $8 million to date on 61 deals with entrepreneurs across the country.  And while he certainly understands the importance of venture capital investments, his most recent book also champions the “power of broke” and the importance of creativity, substance and passion in entrepreneurial ventures.

All of these “good news” activities are renewing and revitalizing Wichita’s entrepreneurial spirit. The community leaders who are supporting these vital programs through financial investments, expertise and mentorship are too many to mention in this column. The Chamber applauds all of these efforts and is proud to be part of the growing network supporting the region’s businesses and advocating for the best possible business environment.

This column was originally published in the September issue of Synergy, the Chamber’s quarterly newsletter. Check this link for the full contents of the six-page issue.