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For Kentucky, entrepreneurial economy requires a new way of thinking

Jonathan Gay |

If you take a poll of the average person on the street and ask them, “What is it Kentucky should be most focused on?” the answer would overwhelmingly be “JOBS!” Nothing is more important to our state than promoting, creating and saving good jobs.

Like most things, however, the devil is in the details. We all agree we need better jobs. How do we get there? That’s where the debate begins. Should we focus on broad issues such as tax policy? Should we adopt strategies such as industrial recruitment? Do we simply agree to provide better consultation to business owners and prospective business owners? The answer is probably “all the above,” but I would submit there’s another effort Kentucky should focused on in its never ending effort to promote more jobs. I call it entrepreneurial-capacity building.

In a mostly rural state where kids are taught to grow up, be smart, play by the rules and get a good job, we must encourage citizens to think outside the box and to create their own job growing enterprises. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Striking out on your own requires a different set of skills than simply showing up for a pre-determined job.

First, you need passion to embark on an entrepreneurial voyage. Otherwise, why not play it safe? Motivation and a sense that you can accomplish your dreams are key. In fact, I’d say one of the first items we should focus on is simply encouraging dreaming. Sadly, this imagination building is often overlooked in conversations about economic development.

Passion and imagination are critical components in entrepreneurial-capacity building, but there’s more. As an entrepreneur, you’re at the whims of the free market. You can’t possibly save the world and grow your company unless you can pay your bills. That’s where things like planning, financial-management, marketing, strategic partners enter the picture. Unfortunately, many of these skills aren’t typically taught in school.

Although passion, imagination, and hard skills are a necessary part of entrepreneurial-capacity building, they usually take a back seat in our economic development strategies. Instead, we’re usually more focused on constructing a newspec building or improving sewage access to existing business parks.

This is why the Kentucky Innovation Network is so important. Consisting of 13 offices around the state, the Kentucky Innovation Networks is looking at the long-term ways we can spark imagination, encourage passion, and provide the hard skillsnecessary to convert the two into sustaining enterprises. Here are a few recent examples:

The Innovation Network office at EKU partnered to host an event called Women Leading Kentucky. The keynote speaker, former Gov. Martha Layne Collins, encouraged a sold out crowd of women from across the region to think of ways theycan think outside of the box.

On Sept. 16, the Innovation Network office at MSU is offering a course on “app” and mobile game development. The event is open to the public and will teach the framework of how to enter one of the economy’s fastest-growing sectors.

The Innovation Network is the presenting sponsor of the annual IdeaFestival in Louisville from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3. Idea Festival is a celebration for the intellectually curious. It’s an eclectic network of global thinkers and one-of-a-kind innovators bound together by an intense curiosity about what is impacting and shaping the future of the arts, business, technology, design, science, philosophy and education.

Quality programming such as this will eventually help Kentuckians thrive in our changing global economy. By encouraging people to take ownership in their lives, dream big and think out of the box, and then marrying that passion and imaginationwith skills necessary for successful enterprise-development and growth, we can change our Kentucky economy.

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Published on September 10, 2014

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