CWU Business faculty dedicated to helping small-town small businesses grow

  • November 29, 2023
  • David Leder

Three CWU College of Business faculty members were featured earlier this month in the Columbia Basin Herald for their work with the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I4IE).

The goal of the institute—which was launched in 2021 with grant funding from the Herbert B. Jones Foundation—is to develop an entrepreneurship mindset in small communities that will eventually help their local economies grow.

I4IE Director Bill Provaznik and his College of Business colleagues, Rob Ogburn and Janie Zencak, said the institute’s mission is to guide municipalities toward long-term gains rather than short-lived successes by identifying projects that will benefit their communities now and in the future.

As Ogburn explains in the article, I4IE isn’t looking to be in charge; instead, it seeks to provide knowledge and resources, such as data and professional experience, so that smaller, community-based economies can become more competitive in the 21st century marketplace.

“We don’t show up and say, ‘Here’s how you should live and develop your economy,’” Ogburn said. “We need to show up and actually engage with them and help them (by) helping to bring the resources so that they can make decisions for themselves.”

The small businesses I4IE is seeking to partner with are the ones who are often being left behind in an increasingly complex business climate.

While I4IE can help any community in the state, the overarching concept is to connect with smaller communities that may not have the resources or economic experts who can create policies and economic development plans.

“Most communities in Washington state can use a partner in bringing resources together … towards economic development,” Provaznik said.

In the end, I4IE is about helping people develop a long-term plan for economic prosperity. It’s a concept Provaznik, Ogburn, and Zencak are very passionate about, and now that they have the support of the Jones Foundation and the CWU administration, they believe their work is just getting started.

Over time, the primary beneficiaries will be Washington’s small-town economies.

“We love talking about economic development. That’s how I got into this business,” Provaznik said. “Before I was an academic, I’d talk about economic growth and finance all day long, and finally, my wife said, “Why don’t you go somewhere where somebody actually wants to listen.’”

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