Renewable energy, biofuels, other markets smart prospects in shaky economy

Today, many Kansans may be realizing the hot job market right now may not be in a traditional career, but expanding on a business idea and forging into the world of entrepreneurship.

Steve Radley, director of Network Kansas, says the center has experienced an increase in inquiries from people about the resources to start their own business in spite of the economy. He says the instability in jobs may be encouraging people to start their own business.

“People are more likely to take risks because the risk is already out there,” Radley says.

Stan Ahlerich, Kansas Inc. president, says history has shown that recessions often motivate entrepreneurs.

“You hate to see a 40-year-old who’s spent his life in the aircraft industry suddenly unemployed,” Ahlerich says. “But the current economy may give him the impetus to expand on an idea he’s had for years.”

Ahlerich says Kansas can offer entrepreneurs opportunities in renewable energy, biofuels, manufacturing and agriculture. Ahlerich notes examples in Siemens beginning work last August on a wind turbine manufacturing plant in Hutchinson and the composite industry in Wichita. In Wichita, composites used in the aircraft industry are now being considered for the medical industry. Composites used in airplanes for their incredible strength can be used to manufacture prosthetics, surgery tables and other medical supplies.

Wallace Meyer, director of entrepreneurship programs at KU’s school of business, says entrepreneurs need to look at “tomorrow kind of businesses” in areas that haven’t already been developed unlike wind or solar energy. He says when entrepreneurs are looking for business opportunities in today’s economy, they must look for a need or problem in society. He encourages his students to find a niche area that not only interests them but can be a benefit to people.

Simone Cahoj, a junior from Atwood, Kan., took Meyer’s introduction to entrepreneurship class and won the Mark L. Morris New Venture Development Award Competition at the business school last fall. Cahoj wanted her business plan to boost the economy and create jobs in northwest Kansas, where she is from. Her fish farm idea would allow communities to have fresh fish rather than have it shipped from the coasts. The farmers’ high-protein soybean crops could be used to feed the fish, the recycled water could irrigate the crops, and fish waste would be used as fertilizer.

“With entrepreneurship you have to find a niche market,” Cahoj says. “It’s about finding something really important to people.”

Meyer says he tells his students to not try to be the Steve Jobs of the world, but to build on an already existing problem or need in their area.

“There are plenty of people who provide to the fish market,” Meyer says of Cahoj’s plan, “but Simone found an opportunity to regionalize it.”