Kentucky Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute



What is the KECI and its mission?

The Kentucky Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute is a unique $2.1 million program that seeks to build entrepreneurial leaders, advocates and coaches in Kentucky’s 41 tobacco-dependent counties as a response to declining tobacco income.   Our goal is to work with volunteer local leaders and give them the tools to strengthen an entrepreneurial culture, entrepreneurial infrastructure and to coach entrepreneurs.  We want the region to become one of the most potential rural entrepreneurship centers in the country.  The work of the Institute is carried out  by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and the Cooperative Extension Service with a grant from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board and the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy.  Those chosen for the program are known as Fellows.


KECI Fellows visit Camp Courageous for Kids, a social entrepreneurship venture in Allen County during an E-Communities Tour Seminar.


Expanding the Kentucky Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute Vision

Mission Expansion:  Recently, the Coaches Institute has expanded to offer programs about entrepreneurship to elected officials, elementary and high school students and communities that are interested in learning more about how to strengthen entrepreneurship. We offer educational tours to showcase rural entrepreneurship initiatives and innovative entrepreneurs, especially youth.  

Local Expansion

The Institute is exploring opportunities to expand its mission throughout  Kentucky and to serve inner-city areas as well as other areas which do not have a tobacco dependency.

In the past few months, the Coaches Institute has offered workshops to elected leaders and others.  We have started an elementary school youth entrepreneurship initiative. We have trained entrepreneurial coaches who can teach entrepreneurial coaching to others.  

National Expansion

National interest in the Institute has spawned an expansion of our mission.  Rural communities across America are recognizing the pivotal role that grassroots leaders can play in changing the entrepreneurial culture of their communities.  The Coaches Institute is being viewed as a national model.

Here’s what we can do for your organization or community:

  • Workshop and materials to train entrepreneurial coaches (4 day training);

  • Workshop and materials on how to build an entrepreneurial leadership program for your locale ( 3 day training);

  • What Every Elected or Community Leader Needs to Know About Entrepreneurship (one-day training);

  • Strengths Quest- an asset-based approach to identify your entrepreneurial and leadership strengths for your team or organization (one-day training);


Educational Tours To Stretch Your Imagination and Networking

  • Rural entrepreneurship educational tour of Kentucky – meet innovative entrepreneurs, youth entrepreneurship leaders and learn about the Kentucky Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute and how its Fellows are  influencing entrepreneurial culture;

  • Rural entrepreneurship educational  tour of Scotland – planned for September 2009 (details to be released late January 2009);

  • Rural entrepreneurship tours in Nebraska, Iowa and North Carolina. 



KECI Fellows gather during an E-Communities Tour Seminar throughout South Central Kentucky.


KECI Fellows Bill Lytle (Metcalfe County) and Denise Brooks (Hart County) collaborate during a seminar.


KECI Fellows visit with youth entrepreneurship instructors at Aquinas Middle & High School in David City, NE.


What’s the Impact of the Coaches Institute?  

To date, 55 Fellows (participants) have graduated from the Coaches Institute in North East Kentucky.  Another 29 are currently involved in the 16-month training program in South Central Kentucky.

Accomplishments include the following:

1)   In a region marked by county boundaries, a new  regional identity among those trained.  Six ran for political office on pro-entrepreneurship platforms.  Alumni have met every six months as a group since 2005 and keep journals about their time commitment for entrepreneurial initiatives.

2)   According to a final evaluation report made by external evaluators  (Feb. 2007):

-         - 55 Fellows graduated from the institute in 2005 and 2006;

-         - Fellows made 1516 contacts with entrepreneurs and
        service providers;

-         - Fellows made 131 formal presentations to community

-         - Fellows coached 161 aspiring entrepreneurs;

3)   According to an alumni survey conducted in the summer of 2008, the following impacts were identified due to volunteer coaching efforts in 2006 and 2007:

-         - 94 new businesses have started;

-         - 57 businesses have expanded;

-         - 131 new jobs have been created;

-         - $3 million in new grants have been stimulated by alumni;

-         - alumni have spearheaded visioning/strategic planning in
          3 counties;

-         - a new chamber of commerce has started;

-         - youth entrepreneurship programs and a leadership
          program have been developed.

-         Mini-grant initiatives have focused on areas such as sustainable agricultural practices, eco-agricultural tourism, development and implementation of a regional entrepreneurship center.  Multiple ventures have been created because of these mini-grant projects. We anticipate more accomplishments from the current class of Fellows when they graduate in October 2009.

How Can Fellows Impact Entrepreneurial Culture? 

Fellows in the Institute impact their region in many ways.  They serve as leaders, coaches and more importantly as social entrepreneurs who collaborate on mini-grant projects that address entrepreneurship within the region.  Throughout their time in the Institute the Fellows are asked to develop mini-grant projects that work to impact entrepreneurship throughout the region.  Mini-grant projects are inspired by E-Community Tours, tools and lessons learned throughout the seminars, and an inventory of assets present within the region.  The Fellows work to build upon their collective strengths to develop initiatives that foster entrepreneurship in the region. 




KECI Fellows meet with entrepreneur Roy Farren, CEC at Elyria Gardens in Elyria, NE.



KECI Fellows meet with entrepreneur Roy Farren, CEC at Elyria Gardens in Elyria, NE.



KECI Fellows visit with entrepreneurs at High Plains Homestead in Northwest Nebraska. High Plains Homestead is located 20 miles off of the main road and has found its niche in the tourism industry.


What Are Some Examples of Previous Mini-Grant Projects?

Class I 

Team 1. New Opportunities on the Farm (Gwenda Adkins, Lynn Baker, Kay Boggs, Teresa Brown, Don Davis, Paula Franke, Anthony Lawson)

This team organized a mini-conference emphasizing alternative crops and agritourism. The goal was to educate local farmers, landowners, elected and appointed officials about the opportunities with alternative crops and agri-tourism related businesses.


Team 2. An Innovation Center for the Region (Melony Furby, Craig Miller, Annette Walters)

This team worked to gain support for creating an Innovation Center in a six county region (Bracken, Fleming, Lewis, Mason, Nicholas and Robertson counties) to be housed at Maysville Community and Technical College. This Center would be the starting point for entrepreneurs in the region to gain access information and assistance for their business ventures.


Team 3. Unbridled Business (Johnathan Gay, Larrey Riddle, Kristel Smith, Rebecca Smith, Rebecca Webb)

The goal of this team was to create a public relations campaign to increase awareness and knowledge of entrepreneurship within the region. The vehicle they chose to facilitate this campaign was the creation of a website – This user-friendly website offers easy to understand information for entrepreneurs and directs them to the resources that can help them, including the KECI fellows in the entire 19-county region.


Team 4. Harrison-Nicholas County School-Based Enterprise Project (Alyson Arthur, Avi Bear, Bob Bedford, Alex Kazunas)

The goal of this project was to create a web-based, student run school store and to facilitate the sales and marketing of student-produced products and services. The store was established at Harrison County ATC, in partnership with the teachers and staff at the school.


Team 5. Wood Shims Contest (Mike Jackson, Gail Lincoln, Sue Nickell)

The goal of this project was to discover products made from wood shims that could be commercialized, becoming the basis for either home-based or mass production enterprises in the region. To achieve this goal, the team organized a Wood Shims Contest to identify potential products.


Team 6. Youth Entrepreneurial Program (Jim Cooksey, Becky Fogle, Keith Herrin, Kim Strohmeyer, Tony Watkins)

The goal of this project was to establish at least one high school Youth Entrepreneurial Program (YEP) in each of the four counties served by the fellows on the team. The idea was to train teachers in web design and they, in turn, would train students in web design and the basics of starting a business.


Class II


Team 1. Kentucky Youth Challenge 2007 (John Hodge, David Kramer, Ralph Brown)

The goal of this project was to establish the Kentucky Youth Challenge contest to bring awareness of entrepreneurial opportunities to the youth in Kentucky, especially the Highlands area of Eastern Kentucky (the focus area for KECI). The intent was to have students (20 years old and younger) form teams to develop ideas for new products or services.


Team 2. Innovative Farmer Award Program 2006 (Terri Cline, Sarah Fanin-Holliday, Linda Hieneman, Barbara Howard, Dail Howard, Dennis Perry)

The goal of this project was to increase public awareness of successful agri-entrepreneurs in Elliott, Greenup, Morgan and Rowan counties in eastern Kentucky. “The purpose of the 2006 Innovative Farmer Awards Program is to identify and recognize farmers who demonstrate the spirit of entrepreneurship while cultivating new farmer-to-farmer relationships” (Program Brochure). 


Team 3. The Nor-Easter: Taking the Region by Storm (Larry Brown, Charlotte Dixon, Toni Eddleman, Pati Porter, Karen Towles, Jennifer Vaden)

The goal of this project was to stimulate interest in entrepreneurship and promote an entrepreneurial culture by developing a regional newspaper page and holding a writing/photography contest for youth.


Team 4. ArtsLink Mini-Grant (Robert Barker, Russ Conrad, Janet Pelfrey)

The goal of this project was to increase support for artisans and organizations serving local artisans by developing a flexible grants process based on the unique needs of each artisan. They developed a seminar to help artisans and artists develop and understand their businesses.


Team 5. Students Teaming for Entrepreneurial Progress – STEP (Eric Fagan, Jeremy Faulkner, Kathy Junker)

The original goal for this project was to bring entrepreneurial education to high school students by teaching an entrepreneurship class in the high schools. However, the team discovered that their program was unrealistic given the constraints within the schools. Given their interest in promoting youth entrepreneurship and the connections team members have with particular youth organizations, such as 4H, these team members decided to support the Kentucky Youth Challenge 2007 with their time and mini-grant financial support.


Team 6. Free Range Egg Mini-Grant Project (Scotty Mitchell, Billy Webb)

The goal of this project was to develop entrepreneurs who would produce and sell free range eggs in the region. The plan was to provide the producers with the inputs they needed, including know-how and hens, to develop operations.


Team 7. Targeting High School Youth (Kim Adams-Leger, Dorothy Altman, Gayle Todd, Larry Willis)

The goal of this project was to establish a link between entrepreneurial organizations and resources in the region and high school youth. The plan was to create a partnership between area high schools, the mini-grant groups and other organizations such as Extension, Bluegrass Energy, and Community Ventures. 


Class III


  • Team 1.  Kentucky Entrepreneur Advocacy Alliance (Sharon Burton,  Sarah Neil Cook, David Dinwiddie, Vivian Gentry, and Tracey Skinner)

  • Team 2.  Entrepreneur Resource Centers (Kaye Bowman, Denise Brooks, Virginia Davis, Barkley Hancock, Melissa Knight, Bill Lytle, Claire McGowan, Karisa Peterson, Micah Terry)  The goal of this project is to develop entrepreneurial resource centers throughout seven counties in South Central Kentucky that are promoted through a detailed marketing campaign.  Each Entrepreneur Resource Center will include:  books identified as the best resources for entrepreneurs (see list at end of document), business cards of the local KECI coaches, a printed list of local resources and their contact information, printed applications for any local licenses required, and rack cards designed by our team about the webpage.

  • Team 3.  Young Entrepreneurs in Action (Hal Goode, Pat Rose, Todd Hoskins, Greg Karsner, Chris Hamilton, Bud Blair, Anita Skaggs,  Jim Hatchett, Ann Beard)

    The goal of this project is to work with young people in grade 6-12 in Casey, Marion, Taylor, and Washington counties.  We plan to introduce them to the concept of entrepreneurship, the work and risks involved, and help them to decide whether they want to pursue a career in their own entrepreneurial business.  We plan to implement our approach through existing school programs like DECA, YES, and FBLA.  

  • Team 4.  Entrepreneurship Investigation (Danny Adams, Gary Carroll, Thomas Dodson, Bonnie Kilby, and Shannon Hutchinson)





A Visit with Scottish Parliament



Fellows meet during a seminar.



Fellows visiting with an entrepreneur at the Beehive Restaurant in Augusta, Ky.






Fellows explore rural entrepreneurship throughout Scotland.



Fellows take part in a seminar.



Fellows meet with resource providers throughout the region.



KECI Team #4


KECI Team #4 Frankfort Trip March 2010


KECI Team #4 Fish Fry July 2010



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