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Entrepreneurs are at the center of Wichita’s cultural and economic shift

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A year ago, one of my early assignments on the Wichita Business Journal’s relatively new technology and innovation beat was to cover an event called Startup Weekend. A group of developers, designers and business-savvy people gathered at the Labor Party Friday night. I only knew a few of them, and many didn’t know each other. As a whole, the set of individuals there was relatively unknown to mainstream business groups like the Chamber of Commerce.

By the end of the weekend, they knew each other well. They had formed teams and created new business plans and products and apps.

Some of those plans didn’t go further when the weekend was over. And that might have been it. Mainstream business executives might never have paid much attention.

But something started there beyond the teams’ startups.

By the time two Startup Weekends had taken place in Wichita, you had the attention of groups like the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Council and the technology alliance created by Visioneering Wichita.

Events like the ICT Unconference were organized to connect Wichita’s emerging doers and makers with long-established businesspeople and community resources. And new resources are being formed. Gary Oborny, chairman and CEO of Occidental Management and a leader on the Chamber’s Leadership Council, tells me that group wants to create a mentorship council for entrepreneurs, and it’s studying an investment fund. Multiple groups are discussing how a Wichita business incubator or accelerator would look. From all the individuals involved in these efforts comes a common refrain: They want a new generation of Wichita entrepreneurs to take the lead. They want to be your back-up on this. There’s a lot at stake. Wichita is in the midst of discussions about how to diversity its economy, and it’s looking at approaches like a jobs fund to make incentives available to big, incoming businesses. But many Wichitans also seem to believe that big losses happen just as often as big wins, and that another approach to economic growth is by retaining smart people and helping them to create things.

As you go through the Startup Weekend process, know this: The environment in Wichita is changing, and long-established business organizations are interested in what you’re doing.

In a year of covering entrepreneurship and technology in Wichita, I’ve seen a major change here, and the people who are at Startup Weekend are at the center of it. You are the creators, the doers, the ones who are sacrificing sleep and sanity this weekend to get together with like-minded people and make something. Many others in the community are ready to line up behind you.

Emily Behlmann covers technology and entrepreneurship for the Wichita Business Journal and produces the free weekly TechFlash email newsletter.