Making Entrepreneurship Accessible in Rural America
Differing starting points, opportunities, and approaches.
While we expected that starting points and approaches would vary across the different locations, what we didn’t realize was the extent to which they would differ.
Local resource providers varied.
Many ecosystems had a number of active local resource providers such as the Penn State Small Business Development Center, the local Chamber of Commerce, and SCORE, all of whom provided a wide range of business services, typically to established or growing businesses. These organizations became obvious partnering opportunities.
Some leaders had already attempted to build partnerships with these local economic development organizations but lacked the resources to execute their plans. The commitment from the university president along with the initial funding became the catalyzing force needed to put their plans into action.
Other communities had limited local resources, or none at all, making it more difficult to connect with potential partners.
To learn more, jump ahead to Insights: Look for common gaps in services and start there.
Building on existing programs.
Some campus leaders looked to existing student entrepreneurship programs as an opportunity to leverage existing resources and expertise in support of community-based entrepreneurship.
For example, three campuses—Penn State Altoona, Penn State Berks, and Penn State York—were already deeply engaged in entrepreneurship, with donor-funded student entrepreneurship education. Additionally, the University Park location was home to the Farrell Center of Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which provided academic and extracurricular programs for business students.
Identifying and strengthening connections.
Still other locations needed to identify or strengthen connections with community members, elected officials, and local economic development groups to assess potential opportunities.
For some, this required working to rebuild trust between the community and Penn State, a critical first step before building a collaborative partnership. Read more about this in the Mon Valley LaunchBox mini case study.
Relationship building took considerable time.
Building trusted and strong relationships took time and resources and, as such, lengthened the amount of time required before locations could start providing support.
To address this challenge, a $10,000 planning grant was made available to support leaders in this step. Funds could be used to deliver workshops, develop architectural plans for a physical space, or hold community forums to generate awareness.
Dive deeper into challenges that emerged early in the ecosystem building process.
- Partnering opportunities differed more than expected
- Staffing approaches varied greatly and staff were unsure how to get started
- Downtown locations created many unforeseen challenges
- Institutional processes slowed progress
- The language of entrepreneurship was neither understood nor inclusive
- The public and potential partners were unsure about what we were doing and why
Learn more about lessons learned and recommendations.