Making Entrepreneurship Accessible in Rural America

3. Strategy: Building a Statewide Economic Development Infrastructure

Identifying and Selecting Locations

Gauging interest.

With goals established, key tenets outlined, and funding set aside, the next step was to reach out to leadership at Penn State undergraduate campuses to make them aware of the initiative and gauge interest.

A request for proposals (RFP) was developed and chancellors at each of Penn State’s 21 undergraduate campus locations were invited to apply for funding. They were asked to identify, in two pages or less, how they would:

  1. provide community entrepreneurship activities within and around their campus
  2. who would receive support
  3. what partners they were leveraging to ensure commitment and engagement with community leaders
  4. how they would leverage off-campus spaces in support of community members, undergraduates, and faculty looking to develop their ideas

Evaluation criteria.

It was further stipulated that proposals would be evaluated against the following criteria:

  • Vision
  • Significance
  • Feasibility
  • Community/Business engagement
  • Student engagement
  • Faculty engagement
  • Matching funds
  • Path to long-term sustainability

Of these criteria, matching funds and student engagement were most heavily weighted.

Building entrepreneurial skills and engagement in innovative activities for our students was seen not only as a precursor to economic development, but also as essential skills for our graduates.


Identifying committed partners.

Proposals that included matching funds from local industry, foundations, and business groups were preferable.

These matching funds represented “skin in the game” and they showed that the community shared in the vision and that campuses were building partnerships and not cannibalizing current services.

Given that this was new territory for Penn State and most campuses did not have expertise in entrepreneurship or economic development, it was unclear how many of Penn State’s campuses would apply.

  • Ultimately, 15 proposals from 13 campuses were received, with some campuses submitting multiple applications
  • Six locations were selected to receive funding
  • A seventh location was funded in State College, home of Penn State’s University Park campus, which serves over 46,000 students

Discover More

Dive deeper into how we built a statewide economic development infrastructure.

Learn more about challenges that emerged early in the process.