Partnership focuses on supporting local entrepreneurs

STAFF REPORT

HANNIBAL — Several local agencies announced Wednesday that they were launching the Ignite entrepreneurship program with the goal of finding, attracting and supporting entrepreneurs in Northeast Missouri.

Ignite is a partnership between Hannibal Regional Economic Development Council, Missouri Small Business Development Council and the Hannibal Area Chamber of Commerce working to create an entrepreneurship ecosystem in the region by providing entrepreneurs with technical assistance, support and connections with investors.

SBDC Counselors like Brittany Weldy provide technical assistance, helping entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.

“Once an entrepreneur is serious about their business idea and has resources to begin, I can step in to help them flush out their business plan, their marketing campaign, financial projections and more,” Weldy said. “My goal is to set them up for success when they present their business to interested investors.”

Ignite’s support system includes networks for professional services, like accountants, lawyers and commercial real estate agents, and mentorship through social events, professional development opportunities and one-on-one discussions.

“We are excited to see the momentum that will result from a collaborative, focused effort on developing entrepreneurs and their businesses,” said McKenzie Disselhorst, executive director of the Hannibal Area Chamber of Commerce and coordinator of the Ignite mentorship program.

Ignite investor events will give successful entrepreneurs the opportunity to present their ideas to investors on stage and one-on-one. The events will encourage networking for entrepreneurs throughout Northeast Missouri and help generate public awareness for their ideas. Hannibal Regional Economic Development Council Director Corey Mehaffy said the investor network is critical to the entrepreneurial process.

“Typically with start-ups we have a gap in the financing stack. In many cases, the bank may require as much as 35% equity. Often our entrepreneurs have a difficult time coming up with 10-15% even with the help of family and friends,” Mehaffy said. “In addition to traditional lending, the investor network can inject capital in the financing stack to allow us to get more deals done.”

The program is led by the SBDC’s Entrepreneurship Specialist Brittany Weldy and Ignite Program Coordinator Chris Kempke, along with several community volunteers. Volunteer coordinators include Allie Bennett of Northeast Power, McKenzie Disselhorst and Sherri McGregor with the Hannibal Area Chamber of Commerce, Brock Fahy with the City of Palmyra, Stephanie Reece with Hannibal-LaGrange University and Mehaffy with HREDC.

The Ignite Program is available to all citizens in Clark, Lewis, Marion, Monroe, Ralls, Pike and Shelby counties. Kempke believes a strong culture of entrepreneurship is a key component to Northeast Missouri’s economic development.

“Homegrown businesses tend to keep more of their revenue in the community and are less likely to relocate. In order to help them succeed, Ignite helps till and fertilize the ground, so to speak, to give them a better chance of success,” Kempke said.

Allie Bennett of Northeast Power agreed with the sentiment.

“Supporting entrepreneurship is important to the overall success of any regional economic development effort,” Bennett said. “Ignite is a platform for supporting our entrepreneurs who aspire to learn and grow. Through Ignite, we will strive to promote the innovative ideas of our entrepreneurs and build relationships among community partners who are also interested in helping these entrepreneurs succeed.”

More information about Ignite and opportunities to be a part of the entrepreneurship ecosystem are available by contacting Chris Kempke at entrepreneurship@hredc.com or visiting Ignite on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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