A Showcase of Rural Entrepreneurship Efforts
From September 17-19, 2019, ELI’s Nic Houle traveled to the city of Pine Bluff, Arkansas as part of the 2019 RuralRISE Summit. The summit brought together entrepreneurs, nonprofit and government agency professionals, educators, and others in an effort to share resources and develop strategies to promote rural entrepreneurship.
On the RuralRISE 2018 Summit:
On May 14-16, 2018, 170 community leaders and rural ecosystem builders gathered at Canaan Valley Resort in Davis, West Virginia for the inaugural RuralRISE Summit. Over the three days, they collectively sought to answer the question ‘How do we empower the leaders, doers, and innovators in rural communities?’
The organizers worked to showcase the efforts being made across the country to enable entrepreneurs to succeed in rural communities. Ranging from funding resources, networking opportunities, business incubator models, and entrepreneurship development programs, the event provided space for attendees to discuss, learn and network. Rather than structuring the event as a traditional conference, RuralRISE seeks to bring resource providers and entrepreneurs to a collective understanding of how to better promote the benefits of entrepreneurship in rural communities. As a part of this showcase, Nic presented with NetWork Kansas‘ Amara Kniep on the Ice House Entrepreneurship Programs as used by NetWork Kansas entrepreneurship communities. Along with many other presenters and speakers, each participant was asked to discuss how best to promote entrepreneurial ecosystems in rural communities.
But What Do We Mean When We say “Rural”?
But this begs the question, what is a rural community, and who lives there? As was discussed and represented throughout the summit, the definitions and scope of rural varies depending on the agency or community you ask, and the population of these areas is as diverse and complex as anywhere else in the United States. While much broader and heterogeneous than one might expect, rural areas share some core values, namely, those communities that thrive are based on trust and cooperation. And, when taking a humanistic understanding of entrepreneurship into account, we can see that the value entrepreneurs create is perfectly in line with rural development.
If we view entrepreneurship as value creation, not just for investors but for the communities the entrepreneur lives in and works with, then we can begin to understand that rural regions are well suited for developing entrepreneurial mindsets. Resources, be they monetary, educational, or otherwise, are often concentrated in urban settings. This happens in large part because cities are densely populated, and often have a concentration of ideas and problems, and therefore opportunities. While understandable, what resource providers and funders must realize is it is the often resource-constrained and community-oriented nature of rural areas that enable smaller town entrepreneurship to develop, and as such these areas should be considered in programming funding conversations.
Every community is unique, and what the RuralRISE Summit has teased out in 2018 and 2019 is that rural communities are no exception. These unique places offer a snapshot of what it means to have grit, ingenuity, and a drive to help those around you. In the end, it is clear that rural communities deserve to be celebrated and supported, and that they are primed for entrepreneurial ecosystem development.