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RuralRise: The Role of Rural Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Updated: Jan 17, 2021

Rural communities have long been the heart of the American economy. Innovation and entrepreneurship are embedded into everything they do. Rural communities perpetually lead the way in creating new businesses to meet local needs. From agricultural advances to Main Street stores, rural communities have always demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit. Successful rural entrepreneurs have the ability to grow and transform towns and local communities in ways that urban entrepreneurs simply cannot.

Despite all this, rural entrepreneurs have faced a variety of challenges in creating and building new ventures. Limited access to resources and funding, plus personnel gaps in training and education can make an entrepreneurial endeavor in a non-metro area a labor of love.

What are Entrepreneurial Ecosystems? According to the Kauffman Foundation’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Playbook, entrepreneurial ecosystems “allow for the fast flow of talent, information, and resources so that entrepreneurs can quickly find what they need at each stage of growth. As a result, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” They create space for collaboration and open communication between networks of entrepreneurs, community organizers, chambers of commerce, business incubators, and institutions like community colleges, libraries, and community foundations.

This invisible community infrastructure supports growth in a way that differs from traditional, formal infrastructure: Entrepreneurial ecosystems create connectivity between individuals, services, and opportunities.

While physical infrastructure provides the basis upon which an economy can develop and grow, an entrepreneurial ecosystem provides the creative environment within which innovation and inspiration can thrive.

A good entrepreneurial ecosystem empowers, inspires, facilitates, and benefits local communities. It allows participants within the ecosystem to reap the rewards and benefits that makes communities thrive and prosper.

At the same time, entrepreneurial ecosystems enrich local communities by offering new products, services, and job creation. Within a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem, that growth opportunity can have a multiplier effect that increases exponentially.

Why Rural Entrepreneurial Ecosystems are Different It is often said that when you have visited one rural community, you have visited only one rural community. Rural entrepreneurial ecosystems encounter a very specific economic reality that can include limited access to capital, challenging transportation, and lacking availability of broadband. With the unique challenges that rural economies face, these entrepreneurial ecosystems need to fill the gaps. From addressing basic infrastructure gaps to meeting unique local needs with entrepreneurial solutions, these ecosystems must develop and grow with a hyperlocal focus that are not reasonable in urban areas. Urban entrepreneurs today hail the gig economy as the latest new thing, but that energy and dedication is prevalent in rural entrepreneurs, as it has been for generations, many times out of necessity. That same multifold economic effort has always been a part of rural communities.

Entrepreneurs do not succeed or fail in a vacuum though, but rather, as a result of varied and various interactions within the community ecosystem. An ecosystem that completely envelops an entrepreneur creates more opportunity and more possibility for growth, especially in a rural community. Those thriving ecosystems allow talent, innovation, support, and resources to reach entrepreneurs as and when they need it. The rural entrepreneurial ecosystems that see success are those that see the benefit of collaboration and the potential within each other. In sharing - rather than competing or comparing - they can create strength-based economic growth and move away from a scarcity mindset.

Moving Forward To help spur rural entrepreneurship, the National Center for Resource Development, in collaboration with the Rural Community Assistance Program, is conducting the first of its kind RuralRise: a National Rural Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Summit. Taking place in the heart of Appalachian West Virginia from May 14-16, this summit, in collaboration with the Kauffman Foundation, the AARP Foundation, Eastern WV Community and Technical College, National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE), Co.Starters, and the Appalachian Regional Commission, will bring together national leaders and local rural community entrepreneurship ecosystem builders to create a national playbook of some of the most effective methods for creating rural entrepreneurial ecosystems. This summit will create connections for rural ecosystem builders across the country.

In order for rural communities to meet the future challenges of a new and emerging economy, they will have to scale and collaborate to compete in the global marketplace. By creating a “national rural entrepreneurial ecosystem” and combining the power, grit, and perseverance of small towns and communities across the USA, small towns and main streets across the country can rise to meet the challenges and opportunities of a better tomorrow.

Learn more about how the National Center for Resource Development supports rural entrepreneurial ecosystems at

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