Entrepreneurial leaders from around the state converged on Danville last week as part of the Kentucky Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute through the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.
The group, which is comprised of people from 41 counties statewide, is focused in areas where tobacco once reigned supreme as a source of income. KECI trains individuals, known as fellows, who return to their hometowns and coach others, encouraging entrepreneurship practices, according to Ron Hustedde, Director of KECI.
“We are transforming culture. It used to be big business. Now it’s ‘how can we grow our own businesses’,” he said.
The program began in 2005 in order to help those formerly tobacco-dependent counties grow. Fellows in the program come from all walks of life, Hustedde said, explaining that there are farmers, entrepreneurs, elected officials, and even a Baptist preacher and a Catholic nun in the program.
While there are no members from Boyle County, Hustedde said they felt it was important to visit the region because of its convenient location and because “Danville is quite entrepreneurial.”
A variety of local leaders and business owners met with the KECI group, sharing some of their expertise.
“The idea is to invest in local leaders and diversity,” he said. Members were able to visit Perryville, which Hustedde said boasts of being very entrepreneurial, as well as going to Marksbury Farm.
He explained that some coaches are social entrepreneurs, being civic-minded individuals, and some business entrepreneurs. The point is for them to be innovators, encouraging open-mindedness and creativity, he explained.
“We are creating a climate to allow people to dream and to dream big,” Hustedde said.
The nearest KECI coaches are from Casey County, where they have been able to go into the school system, working in the middle school and high school, to show students the concept of entrepreneurship. This work was completed through a grant from the KECI, and is being implemented in existing programs in Marion, Taylor and Washington counties, as well.