What We Learned
In a presentation to the 2009 Tri-State Summit, Deborah Markley, RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, outlined five steps for taking action. These five steps are based on observation about what’s working in rural communities across the country, but they are also things you can do to get started right now.
- Be Entrepreneur Focused – Whatever you decide to do in your community, it should be in response to the real needs of YOUR entrepreneurs. The only way to do this is to get to know your market. You might consider starting a visitation program to meet with entrepreneurs in your community on a regular basis. You could invite some entrepreneurs to join an advisory committee to your mayor or county commission to share the joys and challenges of being an entrepreneur in your community. E Friendly Communities in Georgia often started by creating a How To Start A Business guide for the county or town to help entrepreneurs find their way to the right services at the right time.
- Encourage Networking – Entrepreneurs who network do better, and this is one way you can have an immediate impact in your community. As a community leader, you can facilitate networking by creating space and paying for the refreshments. You might also want to enlist the support of a well-respected entrepreneur in your community or region and have him or her talk about his or her start-up experience. Entrepreneurs will come out of the woodwork to hear a peer or potential mentor share the story of his or her success…and his or her failures.
- Engage Young People – Young people bring energy and enthusiasm to community efforts. In many rural communities, figuring out how to stop the out-migration of youth and encourage more young families to “come home” can be a rallying point for entrepreneurship and other community building efforts. However, as Craig Schroeder with the RUPRI Center always says, you need to do with young people, not to them or for them. So, ask young people in your schools what they like about their community. Invite them to really contribute to the planning of community events. Establish a youth entrepreneurship summer camp or a mentoring program with downtown merchants, or launch a business plan competition in the high school.
- Create “No Wrong Door” – If you talk with your entrepreneurs, you will most likely hear them say that they don’t know where to go for help. You might think you have many resources in your community or region – the Chamber, accountants, lawyers, perhaps a Small Business Development Center office. However, you need to make it easy for entrepreneurs to get the right help, at the right time, no matter whose door they walk through. You might bring your service providers together into an informal network, to share what they are doing and get to know each other better. You might have one organization maintain a shared calendar of programs and trainings so that everyone knows what’s being offered and when. You might even consider doing joint-programming – working together to bring a “how to start a business” class to the community. Some communities have even decided to co-locate, creating one place for entrepreneurs to access many services. Click here to learn how service providers in Knox county are working together to better serve entrepreneurs.
- Celebrate Entrepreneurs – Once you get started, you’ll need to keep your momentum going. The best way to do this is to celebrate your entrepreneurs – and the work you’re doing to support them. Consider writing a monthly column in the local paper to highlight a local entrepreneur. Better yet, ask the local high school paper to send youth reporters to prepare those stories! The community could create an Entrepreneur of the Year award, with different categories and prizes provided by businesses. Encourage the community to support local entrepreneurs through downtown events that highlight local businesses. Recognize the jobs created – one, two, three at a time – by sponsoring a joint ribbon cutting with local officials and the media in attendance.