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A Little of the Fab Lab Goes to Washington

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

For the second time in just over a year, local entrepreneur Joanne Smith (Fab Creative Services) and I recently returned from an entrepreneurial policy advocacy trip to Washington, DC sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (EMKF) in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Our relationship with EMKF goes back to October 2013 when I met Kauffman’s then head of entrepreneurship, Thom Ruhe, by chance in a hotel restaurant in Orlando, Florida. The conversations with him that night led to Kauffman supporting the initial creation of Fab Lab ICC with a $50,000 matching grant that we matched with private donations. 

EMKF is no small concern. With assets of around $2 billion, it is one of the world’s largest organizations dedicated to furthering entrepreneurship around the globe. Ewing Marion Kauffman came back from the Navy in World War II and got a sales job with a pharmaceutical company. He was really good with people and at building relationships. So good that within a couple of years, he made more money from his sales commissions than did the president of the company. So, the president didn’t like that and instead of congratulating him on helping make the company successful, the president cut his territory in half. Mr. Kauffman still made more than the president and he tried to cut his territory again. With $5,000, Ewing Marion Kauffman started Marion Laboratories and most of his customers followed him to the new venture. He used his middle name in an attempt to make it appear to be more than just a one-man show. When the company merged in 1989 with Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals to form Marion Merrell Dow the deal made more than 300 millionaires.  

Kauffman established the EMKF in the mid-1960s. He wanted his foundation to be innovative – to fundamentally change people's lives, making entrepreneurship and training available to people all over the globe. 

Even though Ruhe left the Foundation in 2014, our relationship with EMKF continues to grow. Two years ago, we applied for a grant in what was called the Kauffman Inclusion initiative. Our purpose was to lower barriers to women and making entrepreneurship and small business ownership more readily available. We’re in the middle of our 2-year “Women 4 Women” (W4W) program with Independence entrepreneur Joanne Smith as the manager of the initiative. 

In a highly competitive process, our W4W application was selected as one of 21grantees out of more than 700 applications from around the United States. We later found out that we were also from one of the smallest communities. Chattanooga, Tennessee was the next smallest and they others ranged all the way up to Baltimore, Los Angles and New York. 

In addition to working directly to help entrepreneurs and small business owners, EMKF is interested in educating and advocating for entrepreneurship among the legislators and policy makers in the US government and around the country. For the second year they have sponsored entrepreneurship advocates (that would be me) and their representative entrepreneurs (Joanne Smith) to go to Washington DC to meet with legislators and policy makers to demonstrate the importance of entrepreneurship and small business ownership to these elected officials who determine our policies. 

It’s an important message. Erroneously, our society and media lead us to believe that businesses are created by flamboyant entrepreneurs with a lot of money and big venture capital to invest in their start-ups. Also, that in order to be a successful entrepreneur you have to know venture capitalists and have business and MBA degrees from the big universities, if Harvard, so much so the better. The fact is that ninety-eight percent of businesses are started by ordinary people with less than $10,000 to spent on start-up. 

Through W4W and Growth Accelerator, we are working to support this kind of start-up and growth activity with the entrepreneurial mindset training and business coaching we offer at Fab Lab ICC. We act like our future depends on it because it does. The key to economic growth in the future not only in the United States, but all over the world, is entrepreneurial activity by ordinary individuals learning to do extraordinary things. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at or Twitter @jimcorrellks.  

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