Ecomomic & Business Development

Economic & Business Development

Creating a Regional Entrepreneurship System Together

The Creating a Regional Entrepreneurial System Together (CREST) program assists Indiana communities in transforming their economies through the development of key components required for fostering a high quality environment for entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship development is an elusive concept for many community leaders who have traditionally relied upon recruitment as their primary economic development strategy. In fact, for most rural communities, the encouragement and support of entrepreneurship is the best (and for some, the only realistic) economic development strategy. Creating a Regional Entrepreneurial System Together provides a framework for communities to foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that will permeate all the elements that contribute to a community’s quality of life.


Creating a Regional Entrepreneurship System Together (CREST) is comprised of a series of learning modules that combine face-to-face technical assistance and input from a broad coalition of partners that are part of a community or region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The initial modules introduce the importance of and techniques used by communities to promote entrepreneurship. The remaining modules provide the core foundation for creating an entrepreneurial system in communities and regions. The framework is flexible and can be customized to meet communities and regions where they are rather than prescribing a ‘one size fits all’ methodology. In the end, CREST is meant to be implemented in a community or region over four to nine months and culminates in the design, implementation and evaluation of an entrepreneurship-focused project that builds upon local and regional assets. A ‘regional’ approach is taken because every community must recognize and leverage the fact that at least some of their entrepreneurial system lies outside of their political borders.

Key Steps for Implementing the CREST Program:

  • Assist communities with understanding the impact and importance of business creation on the long-term sustainable development of their economy;
  • Identify components that should be in place in the community to support entrepreneurship;
  • Inventory and map the assets that the community has which may contribute to building a high impact and efficient system of support for entrepreneurship;
  • Help communities develop an effective organization that will focus on entrepreneurship;
  • Facilitate an asset-based strategic planning process that includes broad and direct involvement of the community; and
  • Collaborate with the community to develop a strategic plan that clearly identifies mission and goals, addresses opportunities and needs, defines action steps and prioritizes projects that can be undertaken to build community capacity for entrepreneurship.

CREST Strategic Planning – Reverse Engineering a Plan

figure-1 CREST Strategic Planning activities (Figure above) incorporate asset-based best practices that guide participants through a high-touch process that seeks to cultivate community buy-in and active engagement by stakeholders.

The Cyclical CREST Process – Visioning to Evaluation

figure-2 The entire process can be tailored to your community. In general, the process is outlined in the Figure above. The ‘Awareness’ stage offers the community an opportunity to gauge their readiness, develop a baseline and map out current activities that contribute to creating an entrepreneurial system. The ‘Organization’ phase examines the roles that existing businesses and organizations play. Oftentimes, there are several organizations that contribute, but they do not collaborate. Aligning these organizations, businesses and governmental agencies bolsters efficiency and strengthens support for new businesses. The ‘Planning’ and ‘Projects’ phases provide a platform – through collaboration coupled with technical assistance – for participants to actively participate in the planning and implementation of an impactful project and sustainable plan. The ‘Evaluation’ phase serves to further community engagement and improve the entrepreneurial system.

The Process Elements of CREST



Supportive Environment

Creating community and civic environments that celebrate and support entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurial Networks

Facilitating opportunities for informal gatherings of entrepreneurs to share experiences and information

Access to Capital

Identifying sources of all seven community capitals in the form most useful for the stage of business development

Youth Entrepreneurship

Programs to excite young people about the possibilities of creating their own businesses

Additional Resources


Indiana Small Business Development Center

The Indiana Small Business Development Center (ISBDC) was created to have a positive and measurable impact on the formation, growth and sustainability of small businesses in Indiana and to help Hoosier entrepreneurs start stronger, grow faster and work smarter.


Entrepreneurs and Their Communities

This is an online resource for the Cooperative Extension System and their stakeholders interested in cultivating entrepreneurship at the community level.

Center for Rural Entrepreneurship

Center for Rural Entrepreneurship

The Center helps community leaders build a prosperous future by supporting and empowering business, social and civic entrepreneurs.


North Dakota State University Small Business Program

North Dakota State University Extension maintains this ‘one-stop shop’ online resource for entrepreneurship and small business development.


Michael Wilcox Michael serves as the CREST team leader and specializes in economic development. He first developed CREST in Tennessee and brought the program to Indiana upon joining Purdue Extension. View Profile

Heather Strohm Heather serves as a CREST team member and Purdue Extension Regional Educator and specializes in small business development. She is heavily involved in Purdue Extension’s Business Retention & Expansion program and the Purdue Center for Regional Development’s Economic Gardening program. She led two Small Business Development Centers (in Tennessee and Indiana) prior to joining Purdue Extension. View Profile

Tanya Hall Tanya serves as a CREST team member and Purdue Extension Regional Educator and specializes in economic development and data analysis. She also serves on the Purdue Center for Regional Development’s Economic Gardening team, has contributed to the Transforming Your Local and Regional Economy series and served as a coach for the Hometown Collaboration Initiative and Stronger Economies Together. View Profile

Melinda Grismer Melinda serves as a CREST team member and specializes in Community Development with a strong interest in building entrepreneurial networks. She is a Community and Regional Development Specialist with the Purdue Center for Regional Development, and her efforts are focused on the Defense Manufacturing Assistance Program and leadership development. She was the Purdue Extension Director and Community Development Educator in Clinton County where she played a significant role in cultivating an entrepreneurial system of support to small and medium-sized businesses. View Profile


To learn more about Purdue Extension’s Creating a Regional Entrepreneurial System Together program, contact:

Michael Wilcox

Michael Wilcox

Community Development Program Leader