Apr 07, 2023
The Kansas Department of Commerce and NetWork Kansas are working together to tear down barriers many entrepreneurs face when starting a business.
In August 2022, Commerce — the state’s economic development engine — and NetWork Kansas, which connects startups and small businesses with resources they need to succeed, launched the GROWKS Loan and Equity programs to serve Kansas entrepreneurs, with an emphasis on those historically underserved.
The programs, which assist small businesses that often have trouble accessing credit, are distributing $69 million in funding awarded to Kansas by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI). Kansas was one of the first states to be approved for the funding, with GROWKS blooming into the most expansive business-funding programs ever offered by the State of Kansas. And it’s all recycled federal funding, with no additional state investment required.
GROWKS is connecting new and existing small businesses (fewer than 500 employees) to capital in their early stages of growth. The programs emphasize projects that benefit their community with quality jobs; access to care, education, healthy behaviors and civic engagement; and other economic benefits — all high priorities for Governor Laura Kelly’s administration.
Because of its immediate impact and creative approach, GROWKS was honored this week with a 2023 Wichita Business Journal Innovation Award — an honor that also recognizes how strong partnerships are fueling small business success across Kansas.
The GROWKS programs engage Kansas’ extensive network of community and business support partners through NetWork Kansas to provide companion financing to bank loans. These partners help identify, educate and evaluate founders and business owners who would be a good fit for the programs.
The Loan Program, which started with $42 million available, offers a variety of match amounts to private capital from a financial institution such as a bank, Community Development Financial Institution, and other partners. The Equity Programs match private investment, with multiple rounds of investment possible.
The GROWKS Equity Program ($27 million available) matches capital investment support for Kansas companies through the Angel Capital Support Program. Minimum investments of $50,000 may be matched 200% for a minority- or women-led business. Other businesses also are eligible, with a 100% match.
One impressive early Equity Program investment went to sisters Deborah Gladney and Angela Muhwezi-Hall, the first Black women in Kansas to raise $1 million in seed funding for their startup QuickHire (now WorkTorch), a software platform/mobile app designed for jobseekers in the hospitality, retail and service sectors. Less than a year later, their Wichita company announced another $2.2 million investment for its career technology platform.
Another recent and innovative venture came in a Manhattan-based startup. Three government technology veterans and entrepreneurs — Robert Disberger, Matt Kenney and Tim Grant — received an assist from the GROWKS Equity Program for GovBuilt, their software solution for small- to medium-sized municipalities featuring online forms, modules, workflows and payments tailored to customers’ specific needs.
Many other similar success stories are unfolding. By the end of 2022, the GROWKS Loan and Equity programs had approved and/or funded 28 businesses with more than $3.2 million in capital leveraging more than $12 million in private capital. More than $1 billion in funding eventually will be invested by the private sector over the life of the programs, which can be used for common small business expenses such as inventory, equipment, supplies and working capital.
While the federal SSBCI dollars can be distributed over a period of nine years, the programs are expected to operate in perpetuity to help ensure the long-term success of small business entrepreneurs in every part of Kansas. Without question, GROWKS’ impressive trajectory in helping a diverse list of innovative startups get up and rolling has become a model for other states to achieve lasting economic growth.
For more information on the GROWKS Loan and Equity programs, please visit www.growks.com.
To learn more about Kansas’ award-winning economic development programs, please visit the Kansas Department of Commerce website at kansascommerce.gov/news.