Federal grants and matching dollars represent a combined $5.3 million new investment in rural innovation hubs

HARTLAND, Vt. — Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. (RISI), today congratulated three communities on securing i6 Challenge grants via the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) Regional Innovation Strategies program. The three successful grant applications came from:

  • Red Wing Ignite in Red Wing, Minnesota
  • 20Fathoms in Traverse City, Michigan
  • Codefi and the Marquette Tech District Foundation in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

All three communities participated in the inaugural cohort of the Rural Innovation Initiative, a technical assistance program supporting rural communities working to create digital economy jobs with an innovation hub strategy. The Rural Innovation Initiative is made possible via a National Technical Assistance cooperative agreement between RISI and the EDA.

“We are thrilled that three Rural Innovation Initiative partner communities were chosen to receive i6 Challenge grants this year,” said Matt Dunne, Executive Director of RISI. “The i6 Challenge is a significant opportunity for rural communities, but smaller organizations have struggled to compete with urban or university-based applications. The Rural Innovation Initiative works to level the playing field and make the i6 more accessible to rural communities that are motivated to create innovation economy opportunities.”

“In 2018 the Regional Innovation Strategies grant portfolio crossed a major milestone, with grantees reporting over $1 billion in total follow on investment into the businesses and startups they support all over America. These three new additions to the program prove that exciting economic activity truly is happening everywhere, and businesses can start and scale in all corners of America,” said Craig Buerstatte, Acting Director of the U.S. EDA Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“We are grateful to Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. for providing technical assistance as we pursued the EDA I6 challenge grant,” said Neela Mollgaard, Executive Director of Red Wing Ignite. “To receive this grant award from the EDA is a tremendous opportunity for a small town. It’s very validating that the work we’ve done over the last six years has been noticed and there are dollars to continue to enhance and build on what’s been started.”

“It’s validation of the work we’ve been doing and vision we have for the Rural Delta,” said Chris Carnell, co-founder of Codefi and Director for the Marquette Tech District Foundation. “RISI unquestionably provided value and the guidance needed to be selected for such an award. We’re honored for this opportunity.”

“This is a major milestone for 20Fathoms and the entrepreneurial community in Northern Michigan,” said Andy Cole, Executive Director at 20Fathoms. “To be nationally recognized alongside major innovation centers like Purdue, Cornell, and Johns Hopkins is testament to the growth and success we’ve seen in the last year, as well as our potential moving forward. As a rural community without a large university, we simply do not have the resources or experience to write a federal grant of this magnitude. Without the encouragement, guidance, and support from RISI, this opportunity simply would not have been available to us, and it’s largely because of them that we even pursued this daunting application process in the first place.”

The 2019 Regional Innovation Strategies program awarded 44 grants to applicants from 28 states and two territories. The grants represent a combined $23 million in federal and $26 million in local investment.

There is significant demand from rural communities for technical assistance in building innovation hub strategies. When the Rural Innovation Initiative launched in late 2018, more than 130 communities applied to participate in the program.

Participants received a range of support, from on-site and video conference time with RISI staff to templates and written resources as they refined their innovation hub strategies: 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 the startups that will drive their digital economies.

“We are tremendously proud of the work done by community leaders in every Rural Innovation Initiative community,” said Ann Lichter, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. “They worked around the clock to refine their innovation hub strategies and each community is further ahead than it was before engaging in this project. There’s unlimited potential in small towns, and today we’re seeing just the beginning of what that could look like.”

About RISI

Rural communities that need more time to build their innovation hub strategies have the opportunity to continue working with RISI’s team of rural economic development experts to build their capacity and prepare for future funding opportunities. RISI is also creating a community of practice to support capacity building, link innovation hubs, enable communities to make connections to new sources of capital, expand their networks with national technology leaders, and secure digital economy jobs for remote workers in their communities.

RISI works to achieve sustainable economic success in small town America. In September 2018, RISI and its partners launched the Black River Innovation Campus (BRIC), an innovation hub located in Springfield, VT that received funding via an i6 Challenge grant. RISI developed and regularly updates the Rural Opportunity Map, which provides a unique tool for identifying areas of opportunity in rural America.


This document was prepared by Rural Innovations Strategies, Inc. using Federal funds under award ED18HDQ3030013 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.