In Part One of "A New Model For Community Prosperity,” entrepreneurship was identified as one of the key foundations or "pillars” necessary for economic development in small and rural communities. Community colleges, and the importance they play in the economic development of cities and towns within their regions, are uniquely positioned to assist communities in the development of their entrepreneurial potential. Identifying potential entrepreneurs and giving them the tools necessary to guarantee their success is critically important for communities that wish to take a pro-active approach to innovative economic development solutions.
The following outlines how a community can use entrepreneurial strategies to build their economic base. Using a three-pronged approach of Assessment, Strategy Development, and Sustaining Success, community college leaders can assist communities with identification and support of their entrepreneurial talent.
Every community has a range of entrepreneurial talent and the primary priority is to assess the existing entrepreneurial landscape along with identifying potential entrepreneurs within the community. The first step to this assessment is to build a team of community members who have a good understanding of the community, its residents and its businesses. Once the team is assembled, the second step is to assist them with identifying not only current entrepreneurs within the community, but identifying potential entrepreneurs who might be mentored and developed as well.
A four-square approach could be used where each of the identified entrepreneurs would be categorized as either Limited Potential (individuals who might have an interest, but are currently working or otherwise unavailable), Potential Entrepreneur (individuals who could become entrepreneurs with the proper resources and assistance), Business Owners (individuals who are currently in business with the motivation to grow or create new opportunities), and Entrepreneurs (individuals with high motivation, actively engaged in current business ventures and looking to create new enterprises). This list may be extensive, so the team may choose to limit their focus initially on the one group that makes the most sense for economic purposes in their community.
• Strategy Development
Once the community team has targeted the appropriate group (the "who”), an entrepreneurial intervention strategy is designed that will address the "how.” Each community is different and each design will be different, but the foundation of the approach will be the same for all–how will the community find and cultivate champions for the project, what strategies will be employed, how will it be funded, and what are the outcomes expected? Designing a strategy that will energize entrepreneurs may include many resources, such as assistance with writing a business plan or forming a business incubator. The most successful strategies however, all include one important factor–the use of networks, peers, and mentors. The most valuable resource a community can provide for entrepreneurs is the opportunity to learn from, and be mentored by, another entrepreneur.
• Sustaining Success
Ultimately any strategy designed to create systemic change within a community must be sustainable. In this phase, community members should identify two factors: 1) what criteria are important to the entrepreneurial development effort and 2) what indicators will be used to determine success? For example, if "community success” is an important criterion for the project, the indicators to be measured might be: expanded employment, expanded tax base, or broader career options. Having documented short, medium, and long-term outcomes is essential for the evaluation of the project as well as developing a program that is sustainable and provides long-term economic growth to the community.
Developing communities takes a great deal of investment in both time and money. Entrepreneurship is only one strategy that can lead to greater economic prosperity for our small and rural communities, but it is the most important strategy for long-term viability. By helping communities to identify their entrepreneurial talent, design a system that supports those entrepreneurs, and documenting outcomes for sustainability, community colleges can play an important role in the prosperity of rural America.
*These strategies are a part of the Hometown Competitiveness program for rural development. For more information or to obtain resources on entrepreneurial development, visit the website of The RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship at