Op-Ed

Johnathan Gay: Create an ecosystem of entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship offers the most potential to change our region. Our challenge is that this is still a foreign concept. In a region that's been largely dependent on outside actors, a culture of entrepreneurship is missing.

Many still view the industrial park as our last best hope, and support for startups is often lacking in cynical Appalachian communities.

Slowly, groups like the Young Professionals of East Kentucky and the Kentucky Innovation Network, along with partners around the region, are laying out a vision of entrepreneurship. Yet it's still not a vision that's been completely embraced and lacks the resources and support to flourish.

Entrepreneurs need several things to be successful. Any new venture starts with a vision. Typically, that vision needs to be refined, challenged and vetted. In some instances, such as with a new invention, it must be protected.

Usually the next step is to identify the exact business model that entrepreneurs will use to get their products to consumers. (Will they make it themselves or partner with others, for example?) Next, entrepreneurs need capital, legal help, marketing assistance, etc. We have assembled networks that can provide this support.

Every day we engage with some of the most intriguing entrepreneurs in Eastern Kentucky. From drug rehabilitation centers to construction, from product design to inventions, from apps to software development, we are watching area entrepreneurs begin to change their economy. A partial list:

■ Morgan County's Jason Hoskins and J.P. Judge, two Morehead State University grads who design drives for oil rigs.

■ Brad Kincaid, a construction entrepreneur who tired of being a steel worker and entered the steel-erection industry, buying a boom truck on e-Bay.

■ Jeff Garrison and his team at RTC360.com — engineers who built an app for the construction industry that's already selling worldwide.

■ Mike Bryant, a crack software developer who tired of the rat race in Atlanta and came home to Breathitt County to raise a family and create an outsourcing firm.

■ Tim Robinson, a man of faith who opened multiple drug rehab centers across the region and hired 50 people in the past year alone.

This is but a sampling of some of East Kentucky's incredible entrepreneurs. More are out there waiting to be discovered. Our challenge is to find them, to encourage them, to support them.

Models such as business clusters, incubators/co-work space, IT hubs and networking events can help.

For instance: YPEK, Alice Lloyd College and Morehead State University are partnering with the Kentucky Innovation Network to create an academy aimed at younger entrepreneurs. Morehead is looking to create a business hub for space-science students and faculty who design satellites. Ashland has a business incubator.

To truly harness our enterprising nature, Eastern Kentucky must create an ecosystem of entrepreneurship. If you're interested in becoming an entrepreneur or in supporting others, please visit our Morehead page at kyinnovation.com and contact us.

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