A call to action on rural entrepreneurship

Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, The NIIC

This is not a myth. This is a call to action. Only 1 in 10 new businesses will likely start in a rural community.

While not lacking in entrepreneurial energy or potential, rural start-ups are lacking in proportion to their more urban counterparts. To foster business builders in less populated areas, rural communities need targeted and specialized resources to address the challenges and obstacles faced by today’s demanding business builders -by focusing on the 4M’s – management, mentorship, markets and money, rural communities can better grow, diversify and thrive.

What can we do to surround better our rural entrepreneurs with the resources they need to grow? It starts by leaning into three myths and by conducting a comprehensive needs assessment and an in-depth gap analysis in your rural community to determine how to leverage your assets.

Myth 1: There aren’t entrepreneurs in my community. 

While we are lacking a strong pipeline of entrepreneurs and business builders in the United States due to the low unemployment rate and less wage stagnation, we need to inspire future generations to see entrepreneurship as a career option. It is never too early to inspire our future generations to start and own their business. Also, we should not ignore existing businesses with ideas who might be more likely to create startup businesses to address specific unmet needs outside their core markets.

The key is identifying, connecting and promoting all types and stages of rural business builders via outreach, mentorship, education/training and connection. Monthly meetups, mentoring and seminars can unite business builders who might otherwise feel isolated. There’s a sense of empowerment that can come from community building.

Myth 2: Only big cities are poised to build the infrastructure and connect the dots for business builders.

While every rural community may not have the critical mass for specific types of accelerators, incubators, and coworking spaces, rural communities can brand themselves as an entrepreneurial destination for business builders by offering services that address one or more of the 4Ms I mentioned in the opening paragraph. As researcher Tim Wojan and his colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service found, [There is] a strong statistical association between the arts, innovation, and economic dynamism in rural areas. And this leads them to conclude that the arts are a direct force in agricultural innovation, not just an indirect factor that helps to attract and retain talent.”

Beyond the demographics, it’s not as much of an issue of size—it’s all about being plugged into the business building community and identifying what they need, what they will value and what will move their idea or innovation into action (formation of a new venture). From here, it’s a matter of aligning with champions in your community to fill the gaps in entrepreneurial services or partnering and connecting with established service delivery organizations like The NIIC to deliver and support the services. We are doing just this in collaboration with the ACPL and Whitley County Chamber of Commerce & Visitor’s Center in our Enterprising Communities initiative. After all, that’s what the right entrepreneurial infrastructure does—provide the framework for an entrepreneurial base to take off and pool resources to address the most expensive part of entrepreneurship – technical assistance to the entrepreneurs.

Myth 3: Entrepreneurship isn’t sexy enough or is perceived as too risky.

This attitude is understandable, as some rural areas stricken by the recession, haven’t fully recovered and economic developers and politicians are looking for bigger job creation headlines than what a typical start-up might deliver. In fact, nearly 9 out of 10 business establishments are businesses that employ less than 20 people, but these local success stories don’t often make big headlines in the press.

And startups, in general, face a steep incline when it comes to survival rates. However, rural ventures are statistically more resilient than their metro-based peers, despite less money (of the total VC dollars less than 2% go to rural entrepreneurs) and markets (access is often an issue due to less developed community infrastructure). As Professor Stephan Weiler observed, “the resilience of rural start-ups is perhaps due to more cautious business practices in areas with few alternative employment options.”

If you’re a business builder who’s serious and committed to bringing your idea to life, we’re serious about working with you. The NIIC is our community’s most comprehensive resource for high-potential ideas, companies and talented business builders. Why go it alone when you can have the largest entrepreneurial community under one roof in Northeast Indiana behind you?

Interested in learning more? Call one of our business concierges for an appointment with a business coach at 260-407-6442.


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