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Kansas Keeping Entrepreneurial Pipeline Open

Kansas is supporting its next generation of entrepreneurs with Pipeline, but proposed state budget cuts could compromise the program.

Kansas is preparing its next generation of business leaders with Pipeline, an immersion program that connects select entrepreneurs with the programs, people, and funding to make their plans - and state economic development - soar.

Established in 2007 as an initiative of the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation (KTEC) and funded by the state, Pipeline has proven successful, with 36 graduates who have created jobs, attracted outside venture capital, and introduced new innovations.

Due to state cuts, the program reorganized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in order to accept funding from both public and private entities. Despite Pipeline's progress and potential as an economic development growth engine, Governor Sam Brownback's fiscal year 2012 budget includes a measure that will cease program funding. Until then, it is keeping dialogue with leaders open for a way to retain some state funding, according to program president Joni Cobb.

Innovation Spurs Growth
Pipeline has been recognized nationally and internationally in economic development circles. It accepts promising businesspeople, which it calls "innovators," into a year-long program that provides them with seminars, resources, and mentors to fully realize their potential.

The program helps innovators learn how to build their businesses and create new connections and business networks across state lines. It also encourages them to stay active in Kansas' entrepreneurial world by mentoring subsequent Pipeline innovators.

So far, 36 people have participated in Pipeline. These innovators have created high-paying jobs, attracted outside venture capital investments, and shown a business growth rate of 82 percent over three years. Ninety-four percent have debuted new products, technologies, or services.

Reggie Chandra, president of Rhythm Engineering in Lenexa, says Pipeline helped him grow as a businessperson. His company created InSync, which uses artificial intelligence to map and control vehicle traffic flows. This green technology helps cut vehicle emissions, fuel consumption, and travel time. Pipeline's impact has been significant. Rhythm Engineering now has contracts in eight states and saw revenue boom 800 percent after Chandra's completion of Pipeline.

Funding Falters
Despite the success of Chandra and other Pipeline graduates, state funding for it has decreased, prompting program adjustments. Supporters say the program is an inexpensive way to spur economic development and encourage entrepreneurs to stay in the state.

"I understand we're in difficult times and hard decisions have to be made, " Chris Shipley, a former Pipeline national adviser, told the Wichita Eagle. "I just think there's tremendous value in the investment.value that stays in the community and grows in the community."

For fiscal year 2011, KTEC has awarded $471,000 to Pipeline, which comprises most of the program's funding. For now, program leaders wait to see how the governor's budget will affect them in 2012. While its new nonprofit status will allow it to capture private funding and grant money, program president Cobb says the state must show its support through some funding.