Entrepreneurship Alliance aims to boost new businesses

Shane Hoover
CantonRep.com staff writer
Stark Business Journal, a publication of the Canton Repository
October 22. 2013 12:01AM

An initiative called the Stark Entrepreneurship Alliance aims to bring together the expertise of business groups, academics and potential funders to assist entrepreneurs and spur job growth.

Kent State Stark has a Small Business Development Center on its Jackson Township campus, while next door, Stark State College runs a business incubator. Over in Alliance, there’s an accelerator for up-and-coming tech companies, and in downtown Canton, the Stark Development Board and Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce are doing their own work to promote local companies.

In short, entrepreneurs looking for a place to grow have a lot of resources in the area.

The question is: “How do you put it together in one step?” said Stephen L. Paquette, president & CEO of the Stark Development Board.

The answer could be the Stark Entrepreneurship Alliance, an initiative that aims to bring together the expertise of business groups, academics and potential funders.

WHO IS IT?

The alliance partners are familiar names: Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce, JumpStart Inc., the Small Business Development Center at KSU Stark, Stark Development Board, Stark State College, Technology Accelerator Alliance, University of Mount Union, Walsh University and ystark!

To support the administrative structure, the Stark Community Foundation has given SEA a grant of $150,000 over three years. The alliance also received a $10,000 grant from AEP.

Mark Samolczyk, president of Stark Community Foundation, said SEA is in line with their three focus areas.

“If you do a proper job on economic development, it impacts education and neighborhood revitalization,” he said.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The starting point for most entrepreneurs will be the application form on SEA’s website, www.starkentalliance.com.

The application first asks entrepreneurs what services they need: Business consulting, financing, management recruiting, product innovation, legal and accounting, incubation space or anything else.

Entrepreneurs are then asked for a brief summary of their company or business idea, how much money has been invested and from what sources, and whether they need more funding.

Once the application is submitted, SEA aims to be in touch within 24 hours.

“I think it’s going to streamline the process for somebody who wants to start a business or has an existing business and wants to expand it,” said Randall Hunt, chairman of the Stark Development Board.

Each of the four schools involved in SEA have entrepreneurship programs, and have agreed to provide access to experts. The alliance also can connect entrepreneurs to debt financing through banks or the Stark Development Board Finance Corporation, or equity financing from venture capital groups, such as the Angel Impact Fund.

“The availability of money really makes you a serious player,” Paquette said.

The website also features an Upcoming Events page with notices on entrepreneurship-related seminars and forums.

“The whole thing is about leading businesses to resources that can help them,” said Steven J. Katz, senior vice present of the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce.

WHO IS IT FOR?

SEA is geared to assist both startups and existing small and medium-sized businesses in Stark and surrounding counties that want to add jobs or introduce a new product.

“We see entrepreneurship in all types of businesses and all sizes,” Paquette said.

Entrepreneurship is a big trend right now and technology has made it easier to start a business and reach beyond local markets, bringing dollars back into the economy region, he said.

One hundred years ago, Stark County was quite an entrepreneurial community, said Victor Pavona, director of the Small Business Development Center. Timken Co. is just one example of a company that took root.

SEA is trying to rekindle that spirit.

Thanks to the success of tech startups, entrepreneurs are often pictured as young, college drop-out tech geniuses, but that isn’t what the alliance is expecting here.

“Most entrepreneurs are not Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerburg,” said Jon T. Elsasser, a retired Timken executive who is chairman of the Impact Angel Fund, a venture capital group with investors from Stark and nearby counties.

For one, they tend to be older. A 2009 study found that entrepreneurs had an average age of 40.

Often they are people working at a company who figure they can do the job better than their employer or meet an unmet need, Elsasser said.

Not to say there isn’t room for a young entrepreneurs.

Glenda Zink, Stark State’s dean of business and entrepreneurial studies, said a lot of students want to start their own businesses because of the difficulties the see in the current economy.

“They’re 22 and through college and there aren’t jobs out there,” she said.

For the Stark Development Board, which has traditionally helped existing businesses, the alliance is a means of finding a new market for its services.

“The whole concept was based upon what people were telling us what we don’t do and what we need to do,” Hunt said. “We think it’s out there, but time will be the truest measure of whether that particular marketplace is out there or not.”

Article reprinted with permission, Copyright 2013, Canton Repository, Some rights reserved.