Federal grants and matching dollars represent a combined total of almost $2.3 million in new investment in Rural Innovation Hubs

HARTLAND, Vt. — Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. (RISI), a social enterprise advancing inclusive economic development in rural America, today announced that two rural communities from across their Rural Innovation Initiative have secured Venture Challenge grants via the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Build to Scale (B2S) program. The two successful grant applications came from Waterville, Maine, and Platteville, Wisconsin.

Both communities participated in the second cohort of the Rural Innovation Initiative, a technical assistance program empowering rural communities as they execute on innovation hub strategies. The Rural Innovation Initiative is made possible through a cooperative agreement between RISI and the EDA. The Initiative was launched in 2018 by RISI and its sister organization, the Center On Rural Innovation (CORI). In addition to the EDA, the Siegel Family Endowment and Walmart have provided funding for the Initiative.

“We are excited and inspired that two Rural Innovation Initiative communities received B2S Venture Challenge grants this year,” said Matt Dunne, Executive Director of RISI and Founder of CORI. “In a time when the pandemic is creating a ‘rural moment,’ these funds will allow forward-thinking small communities to support local entrepreneurs to build new companies for the future.”

“Grantees were selected from a competitive pool of more than 600 applications and represent exemplary innovation and entrepreneurship from rural and urban areas across America,” said Dana Gartzke, Performing the Delegated Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. “In addition, projects in federally designated Opportunity Zones will bring new capital and opportunity to communities that traditionally have been ignored.”

“This grant will allow the Central Maine Growth Council to scale our organization and associated projects while executing on 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 digital economies,” said Garvan D. Donegan, Director of Planning and Economic Development at the Central Maine Growth Council.

“This grant will expand our reach through our many partners to creating a compelling infrastructure and an environment that inspires innovation,” said Craig Beytien, Corporate Relations Executive Director at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

“Southwestern Wisconsin has a history of innovation and this program will further cultivate entrepreneurial inventiveness by providing a framework for development and growth,” said Troy Maggied, Executive Director of Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. “This is a win for the entire region and another reason for start ups and existing businesses to choose Wisconsin.’”

Since its inception in 2018, more than 250 communities have applied to participate in the Rural Innovation Initiative program. Selected participants receive a range of support as they refine their innovation hub strategies, including on-site visits from RISI staff, virtual strategy sessions through the B2S application period, and expert guidance along with templates and written resources. Participants are also invited to join the Rural Innovation Network, CORI’s growing community of practice that works with rural communities in 18 states and all 4 time zones to train residents in digital skills, employ them in new economy jobs, and empower them to launch the startups that will drive their future economies.

“We are tremendously proud of the work community leaders in our Rural Innovation Initiative have done to prepare for the Build to Scale grant opportunity,” said Leah Taylor, Rural Innovation Initiative Manager at RISI, who guided several of the communities through the B2S application. “They worked around the clock to refine their digital economy ecosystem strategies, and each community’s ideas have grown immensely during this project. There’s unlimited potential in small towns, and we’re continuing to see what that can look like all across the country.”


About RISI

Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. (RISI) is a social enterprise supporting inclusive economic development in small towns across the country. Working closely with its sister organization, the Center On Rural Innovation (CORI), RISI takes a comprehensive approach to economic development and uses data-driven strategies to build capacity for local change agents committed to creating sustainable digital economy ecosystems in their hometowns. These ecosystems center around innovation hubs that offer digital-job skills training, coworking spaces, remote/distributed work opportunities, support for entrepreneurs scaling tech-enabled startups, access to capital, and plans to build local amenities and cultural resources. RISI also works to ensure that rural digital economy ecosystems are fully inclusive, creating opportunity for individuals historically excluded from technology careers.


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.