Share Your Entrepreneurial Insight with the Kansas State GovernmentKyle Smith
“Entrepreneurs create most net new jobs, a key driver of the economy, but too few policymakers understand entrepreneurship or how to best support it,” said Jason Wiens, policy director at the Kauffman Foundation. “Entrepreneurs are their own best advocates but their voices are not loudly heard by policymakers.”
The Kauffman Foundation created the first-ever Entrepreneurs’ Policy Network to help address the silence. And the Enterprise Center in Johnson County (ECJC) was selected to spearhead the effort in the region.
To hit the ground running, ECJC teamed up with BioKansas and organized Bioscience and Innovation Day in Topeka on February 1. Almost 50 innovators made the trip and met with 38 members of the legislature.
>>>>>Before we dive into what they shared and learned . . . are you interested in sharing your entrepreneurial insights with the Kansas state government? Drop ECJC a line here.
The group came prepared with bioscience and innovation policy priorities. Here’s a look:
Leverage federal support for entrepreneurship and innovation
Each year, Kansas entrepreneurs have the opportunity to leverage more than $190 million in federal innovation R&D grants (like SBIR and STTR awards) to grow their companies and commercialize university research.
In 2017, Kansas companies won only eight SBIR or STTR awards, as compared with an average of 20 awards per year between 2000 and 2014. In missing opportunities to compete for these awards, the community is leaving money on the table that could help grow early-stage businesses in Kansas.
Since 2014, the state of Kansas has failed to fund technical assistance for local companies and researchers interested in competing for SBIR and STTR grant opportunities. Technical assistance includes helping entrepreneurs search for grant opportunities and completed lengthy and complex grant applications.
Solution: Fund technical assistance to Kansas entrepreneurs applying for federal R&D grants. Appropriate $1,000,000 from the Economic Development Initiatives Fund (EDIF), dedicated to funding regionally based technical assistance specialists at existing entrepreneurship support organizations, to be chosen through a competitive application process. Specify that at least $100,000 of this appropriation be used to create administrative capacity within commerce to manage this program.
Preserve the EDIF as a source of funding for entrepreneurship support programs.
The EDIF is intended by statute to support projects “enhancing the economic foundation of the state and fostering growth,” a mission that is clearly achieved by support for entrepreneurship and innovation efforts.
To mitigate the state’s budget challenges, large portions of the EDIF have been swept to the State General Fund (SGF) in recent years.
While ensuring our state’s financial stability is of utmost importance, it is also important to ensure that EDIF funds are not used to fund programs and initiatives outside the program’s statutory intent.
Solution: Oppose additional sweeps from the EDIF and oppose efforts to dedicate EDIF funding to programs that do not directly contribute to economic development and economic growth.
Key takeaways from Bioscience and Innovation Day
Over the course of day, the innovators listened to a talk from Majority Leader Don Hineman and broke into small groups to meet with the legislators. We’re lucky enough to see what they learned thanks to Melissa Roberts, VP of strategy and economic development at ECJC:
The focus of the legislature right now is on the K-12 funding formula, which has large-scale implications on the state budget for years to come. There’s very little ability to talk about additional appropriations or workforce development issues that impact K-12 until the next budget cycle, which will be the 2019 session (for fiscal year 2020).
There is a broad sense of optimism that the state is nearing the end of our financial crisis and that the legislature will be able to “get back to governing” again toward the end of the session. Many in leadership agreed that this is a great time to begin the conversation about what future appropriations to support this community could look like and expressed an interest in being involved in that process.
The group identified some legislative advocates who will be part of future efforts to include innovation and entrepreneurship funding priorities in the FY20 budget, many of whom have expressed interest in participating in an Innovation Caucus. That effort is in the works.
All legislators who were in office two years ago immediately recognized Angel Tax Credits as the policy that they had last heard from this community about. They were all quick to bring that up, which is a great indicator that our messaging has made an impact in the past.
Strengthening the Department of Commerce and supporting the administrative capacity of critical early-stage incentives is a top priority.
How you can make your voice heard in the Kansas State Government
ECJC is working on their next steps as a member of Kauffman Entrepreneurs’ Policy Network right this instant. If you’re interested in being involved, drop ECJC a line here. And to keep up with the latest on Kansas City’s entrepreneurial community, subscribe to our newsletter.