Making Entrepreneurship Accessible in Rural America

4. Challenges: Early Challenges that Emerged

Staffing Approaches Varied Greatly and Staff Were Unsure How to Get Started

Recruiting current faculty and staff.

With the six locations anchored near Penn State campuses, chancellors tended to look first to current faculty and staff to help define and provide services.

This was often the fastest way to put someone in place, and chancellors knew the skills and expertise that these individuals could bring to the endeavor.

Entrepreneurship experience varied.

While many Penn State employees had seen firsthand the devastating impact of post-industrialization changes to their towns, personal experience with economic development and entrepreneurship varied.

Some had experience starting and running businesses, others had considerable academic experience researching and teaching business concepts, and still others had limited or no experience on which to draw.

Across the board, few were current on national or global startup best practices, from the latest lean startup methods to investing criteria, so they were unsure exactly how to begin or what services would be most useful to tech-based startups.

To learn how we worked to address this challenge, jump to Insights: Provide centralized support to promote growth and scaling.

A variety of full and part-time duties.

Depending on their current workloads, some faculty and staff were assigned duties for the initiative in addition to their regular jobs, while others took new positions focused on standing up the location. A few locations hired entrepreneurs within the community to lead the charge.

Further, while some locations put in place full-time directors, others leveraged part-time staff to establish and provide services. Still others recruited volunteers, both internal and external, and saved their allotted funding to cover rental costs for physical community-focused spaces downtown.

Staffing impacted timing and ability to scale.

It started to become clear that individual staffing approaches would impact the speed at which locations were able to identify and provide needed services.

Naturally, those with full-time staff would be able to move more quickly than those with part-time staff or volunteers.

To learn more, jump ahead to Insights: Provide centralized support to promote growth and scaling.

An experimental approach.

The initiative was purposefully designed to allow individual locations to experiment, learn, and pivot as needed—an approach that isn’t typical for an academic institution, especially when significant investment was being made. It was a very entrepreneurial approach and, as such, was new territory for many university staff and administrators.

Those who were already well connected, or who worked to build relationships with trusted individuals within the community, were able to experiment and adapt faster as they were able to leverage those connections with local entrepreneurs or those exploring starting a business.

To learn more, jump ahead to Insights: Encourage and reward experimentation.


Locations needed more support.

While locations had the autonomy to make localized decisions, more centralized support was needed to ensure alignment with the tenets of the initiative and to help build the network’s knowledge of ecosystem-building best practices and lean startup principles.

To learn how we worked to address this challenge, jump to Insights: Provide centralized support to promote growth and scaling.

Learn more about lessons learned and recommendations.