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Empowering local leaders to build digital economy ecosystems

Through the Rural Innovation Initiative, 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.

Since launching in 2019, we’ve helped our communities raise more than $17 million in federal funding and matching dollars through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s highly competitive Build to Scale Venture Challenge Grant.

Who we work with

Our team works with rural communities that generally have a few key foundations in place to build their digital economies: 

  • Existing high-speed broadband that can be leveraged to create new jobs 
  • Partnership with a nearby university or college that will provide access to talent 
  • Committed local leadership that will lead this work and develop partnerships 
  • Willing nonprofit organization or local/regional government prepared to raise matching funds and support program execution

How we work

We partner with rural communities to develop actionable digital economy strategies in a cohort-based model. This creates opportunities for shared learning with other communities working on similar initiatives across the country. To learn more, register for one of our upcoming webinars.

Step 1: Assess

We conduct a local digital economy ecosystem assessment

Our team identifies current assets, opportunities, gaps, and challenges that community leaders must factor as they begin building their local digital economy strategy. The assessment includes community-wide asset mapping, a quantitative diagnostic report, qualitative analysis, and interviews with community stakeholders and partners. At the end of the assessment, we compile our findings into a single report, and share our findings with you about your community.

Step 2: Strategize

We build a community-specific digital economy strategy

Our in-house team of community managers and economic data specialists collaborate with rural leaders as they develop and refine digital economy strategies that are unique to their local community. Building upon the findings from the assessment phase, we provide technical assistance, tools, templates, guidance, and best practices for designing inclusive digital economy strategies.

Hursh Juneja stands outside the Chickasaw Nation headquarters

Step 3: Advise

We collaborate with participants on competitive grant proposals

In this final phase we work with participants to identify what funding opportunities best match their needs, and advise their grant writing process in order to develop competitive grant proposal that will help them gain the resources and assets needed to execute on their digital economy strategy.

Step 4: Join

We invite interested communities to become part of our Rural Innovation Network

Once communities complete the Rural Innovation Initiative and begin to execute on their plans, they may be eligible to join our Rural Innovation Network which provides access to experts in the field and to a network of rural communities also building their own digital economies. Learn more about our network here.

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 would love to learn more about the work you’re doing locally to advance the digital economy in rural America. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions.

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.