Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Sarah Siders, Spark
June 23, 2021
By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University
A little spark can get a fire going – or in this case, it might help get entrepreneurship going. I’m referring to an organization named Spark which serves as a hub for resources to support entrepreneurs.
Sarah Siders is executive director of Spark. A Kansas State University graduate in social work, she left Manhattan briefly and planned to work overseas but came back a year later. She got married, went to graduate school for clinical social work with the goal of becoming a therapist, and then worked in the mental health department at Fort Riley’s Irwin Army Community Hospital. She and her husband also serve as a co-pastors of a Manhattan-based church, The Well. After nine years in the mental health field, she opened her own business.
“When I started my own counseling and coaching practice, I found I loved the business side of things,” Sarah said. She joined the organizing team of the 1 Million Cups entrepreneurship organization, worked closely with some of the original founders of the Manhattan co-working space called The Fellow, and wrote for Manhattan Business News. In 2019, colleagues encouraged her to run for Manhattan City Commission, which she did but was not elected.
“Five days after the election, a member of the organizing team recruited me to help develop a new entrepreneurship nonprofit organization in Manhattan called Spark,” Sarah said. In the first few months, Sarah developed Spark's branding and took the lead on the proposal securing the bulk of Spark's funding. In July 2020, Sarah was selected as executive director and the organization earned 501(c)3 status.
Spark has “a vision to connect, resource, and successfully launch entrepreneurs and promote a dynamic and inclusive culture of entrepreneurship and innovation in the greater Manhattan region.”
“We spent the first six months doing a lot of listening to what business groups and resources were already doing,” Sarah said. “Everything we do is through collaboration and partnerships.”
Spark is sponsored by Kansas State University Innovation Partners, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Kansas Gas Service, and a private donor. It partners with the Small Business Development Center, K-State Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship, Network Kansas, Black Entrepreneurs of the Flint Hills, Pottawatomie County Economic Development, K-State Research and Extension - Riley County, and more.
“We want to serve as a hub where entrepreneurs can connect with resources to support them,” Sarah said.
She believes everyone has a role. “We are all part of the entrepreneurial network, whether you’re an investor, entrepreneur or business owner, service provider, or buying local,” she said. “That’s why we call it an entrepreneurial ecosystem, we’re all connected.”
She encouraged everyone to go to www.sparkmhk.com for more information and to share resources, contacts and events.
The Spark logo is carefully and intentionally designed. “It is all lowercase letters, because a spark starts small,” Sarah said. The logo also has different shades of color. “It starts with the light of a bright idea and progressively moves to the deep dark red of established growth,” she said. “As we go forward, we’ll be targeting industry-specific innovation that our region is uniquely designed to support.”
Spark continues to support 1 Million Cups, an area pitch competition called Startup MHK, and is currently offering an entrepreneurship business basics class. “We’re based in Manhattan, but we want to support people across the region,” Sarah said. For example, she told about a business which she had worked with in the rural community of St. Marys, population 2,627 people. Now, that’s rural.
“We need investors to help provide the resources to support entrepreneurs,” Sarah said. “We encourage those who are in the pre-venture or early stages of starting a business to contact us.
“We want to tell the story that greater Manhattan is a great place to start and grow a business,” Sarah said.
A little spark can get a fire going, and this Spark organization is helping entrepreneurs get going too. We salute Sarah Siders and all those involved with Spark for making a difference with support for small businesses. I hope the results will ignite a flame of entrepreneurship.
Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are available at http://www.kansasprofile.com. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit http://www.huckboydinstitute.org.