More and more, people across the nation are teaming up to discuss and promote the evolution of entrepreneurship in rural areas.
Rural Rise is a group of collaborators working to champion rural entrepreneurship through local and national support organizations.
This post outlines some of the most important takeaways from Season 1, Episode 8 of The Keystone podcast: Empowering Rural Startup Communities With the Rural Rise Organizing Team.
1. There is no one-size-fits-all definition of rural entrepreneurship
Many define 'rural' by population or land use, but Rural Rise defines it as any area outside of an urban or suburban region that has self-identified as rural.
There isn’t a cookie-cutter model of the rural entrepreneurial ecosystem either.
For this reason, Rural Rise hosts monthly conference calls and created an annual summit to bring small-town entrepreneurs together to share their challenges, identify their similarities and differences, and find solutions.
Rural entrepreneurs are experts at seeing a need and filling it. Rural Rise is taking this already established can-do attitude and applying it to the broader problems that hinder economic development in rural communities.
2. Rural communities have unique advantages and disadvantages
Rural communities often face issues of infrastructure, including lack of broadband connectivity and limited access to transportation. A second challenge these communities come up against is raising awareness of resources and funding opportunities available to small businesses and individual entrepreneurs.
However, small towns have the upper hand in other ways. For example, social infrastructure is much stronger in rural communities than urban ones. Rural communities value connection and loyalty. As a result, personal and professional relationships are not only easier to form but are durable, too.
This human-centered economic development model is powerful. Compared to a large, impersonal company creating 300 jobs in a town only to close or sell out a few years later, businesses launched and built in small towns typically are more sustainable—the owner becomes a staple of the community and tied to a mission.
Not to mention, rural communities are resilient. They know how to reinvent themselves after large industries fail. Increasingly, urban centers are recognizing the harmful effects of the industrial age and looking to small-town models for answers, as rural communities have experienced hard times firsthand and have developed effective ecosystem-building tactics out of necessity.
3. Championing rural entrepreneurship is crucial to the survival of small towns
Rural entrepreneurship allows people from small towns to stay local rather than contribute to the ‘brain drain’ we see happening in smaller communities across the nation.
Notably, the impact of just one or two small businesses in a rural area is more significant than that in an urban area; it can change the trajectory of an entire town or region.
Shopping local, reviewing small businesses online, and liking and sharing their posts and stories through social media are little things you can do that go a long way in supporting rural entrepreneurship.
4. Stories of rural entrepreneurship often go untold
The types of businesses getting the most attention for their work are scalable 'unicorns' that appeal to the masses and make exorbitant amounts of money. It's a pretty narrow narrative of entrepreneurship that is often detrimental to those who don't fit the bill.
The reality is that there are already a ton of businesses and business owners in smaller communities. Yet because they look different from the unicorns, they can develop a self-defeating attitude that tells them that their stories pale in comparison to the ones coming out of large cities. To assuage self-sabotage, rural entrepreneurs need to feel valued and supported.
Notably, there are cultural differences in small towns that also inhibit self-promotion. People in rural communities tend to be humble about their achievements. Many have a much different definition of success than urban entrepreneurs as well. For a rural entrepreneur, success may look like having the money to buy jerseys for the high school football team and time to coach practices and show up at every game, not nationwide recognition and millions of dollars.
Rural entrepreneurs are often content by serving their families and communities. In fact, as a result, rural entrepreneurs usually craft a quality of life that far exceeds that of an urban setting. Within a consumerist society, however, the small town's more holistic definition of success gets overlooked—it's much more difficult to measure the qualitative characteristics of ‘the good life’ than quantitative dollars and cents.
Growth requires communication among small towns and with larger cities
Many small-town entrepreneurs are so focused on their business and families that it can be difficult for them to step outside of their day-to-day duties.
Yet Rural Rise is proving that there is immense value in rural communities uniting and sharing their stories. Creating a rural entrepreneurial network allows for synergy and opportunity, but more than anything, it inspires hope.
For this invested, tight-knit group of individuals working together toward a singular, impactful goal, the sky is the limit.
For more information on Rural Rise's mission, visit www.ruralrise.org.