Empowering rural communities from strategy to execution

We provide intensive technical assistance and support to rural communities as they build digital economy ecosystem strategies, an economic development model that works to educate and train local residents in digital skills, employ them in digital jobs, and empower them to launch the startups that will drive their local economy.

Through the Rural Innovation Initiative, we’ve helped our communities raise more than $10 million in federal funding and matching dollars through the highly competitive Economic Development Administration’s Build to Scale Venture Challenge Grant.

How we work

We partner with rural communities to develop compelling and actionable digital economy strategies that provide opportunities for shared learning and broader cross-pollination with other communities across the country.

 

Assessment

Assessing rural tech ecosystems

We identify current assets, opportunities, gaps, and challenges that communities must factor as they begin building their digital economy strategy. This begins with economic data analysis and interviews with community stakeholders and partners.

Strategy

Cohort-based technical assistance

Our rigorous technical assistance supports participants over the course of several months as they develop and refine their digital economy strategies. This cohort-based model enables participants to share and learn from each other while our team delivers tools, templates, expert guidance, and best practices for designing inclusive digital economies.

 

Funding support

Developing competitive grant proposals

By the end of the Initiative, participants will have a clear understanding of their digital economy ecosystem, a clear strategy to develop competitive grant proposals that align with their vision and goals, additional resources and assets to support future fundraising efforts.

 

Nationwide partnerships

The Rural Innovation Network

Once communities complete the Rural Innovation Initiative and demonstrate ongoing commitment to developing their digital economy ecosystem strategy, they are eligible to join our Rural Innovation Network. Learn more about our network here.

Who we work with

The Initiative works with communities that have a variety of foundational elements already in place:

  • Existing high-speed broadband
  • Significant portions of the community located in or near Opportunity Zones
  • Partnership with a four-year residential college or university campus (typically within a 40-minute drive time)
  • Committed local leadership and a willing non-profit organization and/or local and regional government prepared to raise matching funds and lead the initiative

We understand that not all rural communities have these elements. Our goal is to help all towns across the country become smarter about economic development in the 21st century. Whether you’re just getting started or looking to further your work, we’ve created a variety of free materials to help communities plan and execute digital economic development strategies. You can find these resources in our resource center.

Meet Rural Innovation Initiative participants

We've had the opportunity to support rural communities across the country. Here are a few of the leaders and change agents we've partnered with since launching the Rural Innovation Initiative

Debbie Irwin Headshot
Staunton Creative Community Fund, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia Debbie Irwin

“Before, we were wading through things without feedback or guidance. We had some wins but they weren’t strategically thought out.

Campfire CoWorks, Marquette, Michigan Keith Glendon

“It was so helpful to have you present to local partners and get them hyped up on how they should care. In rural communities there is less exposure to ideas/models.

UNM Taos HIVE, Taos, New Mexico Rose Reza

“The process was incredible and I really liked going through the process with other communities that could share their key learnings.