Center on Rural Innovation launching opportunity zone fund focused on rural operating businesses

HARTLAND, Vt. — The Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) today announced that it will establish a qualified opportunity zone fund called the CORI Innovation Fund to invest in growth businesses across rural America. The fund will seek out attractive operating businesses that are under-served by traditional venture capital institutions and have the potential to drive economic and job growth in small towns.

The CORI Innovation Fund launch is funded in part by a matching grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and will focus on promising technology businesses located in or willing to relocate to qualified opportunity zones (QOZs).

QOZs were created as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to provide tax incentives to deploy capital gains into select low-income areas in all 50 States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The same legislation authorized qualified opportunity zone funds (QOFs) to serve as vehicles for investment into QOZs.

While the fund will consider opportunities in any QOZ, the initial focus will be on businesses in the communities selected to be part of the Rural Innovation Initiative (RII), which launched this year to build technology startup ecosystems in small communities. American small towns are facing declining populations, stagnant wages, elevated suicide rates and opiate addiction. Yet these communities have competitive advantages, including attractive real estate prices, affordable cost of living, a strong sense of community, and hard-working people. RII communities typically have superior high-speed broadband and are located near higher learning institutions that provide a source of intellectual capital and talent.

There are currently nine RII communities, with more expected to be added in the near term. RII partners with communities to create an ecosystem where startup businesses can thrive with abundant ideas and talent, strong physical and technical infrastructure, excellent quality of living, programs to promote coding and job skills, and a support network of like-minded communities to assist in realizing their growth vision. The CORI Innovation Fund will add access to capital to the list of advantages for RII communities.

“In the age of the Internet there should be no limit to WHERE digital economy innovation can thrive,” said CORI Founder Matt Dunne who was an executive of a successful software company based in rural Vermont and later headed up Community Affairs for Google. “The CORI Innovation Fund is ensuring access to capital is not a barrier for rural tech startups to scale.”

“We are looking forward to supporting opportunity zones by investing in growth businesses with the potential to positively impact economic development and job creation in these small communities,” said Jay Bockhaus, General Partner of the CORI Innovation Fund, who brings an extensive record of investment, transaction, and technology experience from Venture for America, Emigrant Bank, NBCUniversal, and Allen & Company, LLC. “We will be very active in reaching out to technology entrepreneurs in these areas that benefit from strong local support but have been underserved by traditional venture capital institutions.”

About CORI and RII

The Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) is a nonprofit action tank that is sparking the revival of small towns across America by helping them build rural innovation hubs. CORI launched the Black River Innovation Campus in Springfield, Vermont; developed and regularly updates the Rural Opportunity Map that provides the unique Rural Opportunity Mapping tool for identifying areas of opportunity in rural America; and launched the Rural Innovation Initiative (RII), which works to bridge the opportunity gap in rural America by helping communities build the capacity to create resilient, innovation-based jobs.

RII communities receive intensive technical assistance as they execute an innovation hub strategy: an economic development model that works to educate and train local residents in digital skills, employ them in new economy jobs, and empower them to launch startups that will drive their digital economy