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Driving Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in Rural Communities across the USA


In May, leaders from more than 25 states convened the inaugural Rural RISE Summit in Davis, WV to bring together rural entrepreneurial ecosystem builders, building connections, sharing stories, and igniting a coalition of innovators throughout the country. The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), in partnership with the National Center for Resource Development (“NCRD”), the Kauffman Foundation, Co.Starters, the AARP Foundation and the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) launched the RuralRISE Summit, focused on increasing entrepreneurship in rural communities across the country. More than 175 public policy, entrepreneurship, and venture capital leaders attended the event, and are now actively engaging in monthly calls and working groups to increase rural entrepreneurship. In addition, the Summit developed national public policy, corporate and foundation recommendations for funding and driving rural entrepreneurship development.

How did this event come together? Just as many of the most successful ideas do in rural communities…one conversation. RCAP and NCRD got together to discuss ideas, and the thought of putting together a national coalition of entrepreneurship-focused leaders began to materialize. Instead of waiting for the all the pieces to fall perfectly into place, the decision was made to move forward fast, innovate and ideate to bring new partners to the table and to ensure that the innovators in Rural America have a voice.

Clearly, there was a latent need, as organizations like NACCE, Kauffman Foundation, Eastern WV Community and Technical College, CoStarters, and the Appalachian Regional Commission quickly signed on board to assist with the development of RuralRISE. Like everything in rural communities, it took a village, with people willing to step in to bridge the gaps wherever there was a need. RuralRISE is developing into a community, a collection of unique organizations and individuals that are passionate about building entrepreneurial ecosystems and driving innovation in rural communities.

RuralRISE was not your typical event. It started and ended with the ringing of a cowbell and a brief presentation by local entrepreneurs. It was a high-energy, fast-paced, interactive experience where speakers gave 5-minute “quick-fire” presentations on various rural-specific projects and programs from across the country. Attendees then broke out into individual table groupings and provided real-time input to develop a set of unique issues that rural entrepreneurs face, and ideas for how to counteract those issues.

Over three days, RuralRISE provided an opportunity to hear from leaders throughout the country on what they were working on, creating networking opportunities that crossed regional boundaries, and collectively raised the voices of Rural American innovators in a way not done before. More than 90 resources were identified, and over 1,400 ideas surfaced throughout the Summit. One common theme emerged…change in the rural context is likely to be slow, but we should celebrate every success, regardless of size or location.

In the end, twelve broad themes emerged for the RuralRISE community to focus on:

  1. Make our Language More Accessible Through Story

  2. Be Intentional & Inclusive in our Collaboration Efforts

  3. National Networks Exist to Support Local Change

  4. Relationships & Trust are a Precondition for Collaboration

  5. Ecosystem Building Provides a Framework

  6. Understand the Role, Unique Perspective & Qualifications of the Ecosystem Builder

  7. Change What We Measure

  8. Continue Searching for Sustainability

  9. Identify Where Policy and Government Make the Most Impact

  10. Establish a Multigenerational Approach

  11. Account for Local Context while Leveraging Commonalities

  12. Rural Communities Present Unique Opportunities

There are untold opportunities in our rural communities to create regional entrepreneurial catalysts to help spur economic diversification, and RuralRISE is connecting those opportunities to ensure that rural-focused innovators can connect and learn from one another. The partnerships formed under RuralRISE created a significant inaugural event that as Andy Stoll from the Kauffman Foundation, put it, was an “astounding win for entrepreneurs, rural communities and the field of ecosystem building.” RCAP looks forward to continuing the journey with RuralRISE partners in working to help all communities to enjoy the benefits and opportunities of local entrepreneurship regardless of geographic location.

RuralRISE is an inclusive community, so please come to join us! You can find more information on RuralRISE, as well as a report from the Summit, at www.ruralrise.org.


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