37 Million Rural Americans Rural and Small Town Startups: what's missing and where to get help

 In Benefit Venture Blog, Finanace, Insights

Rural and small town startups: People in rural communities and small towns across America are just as likely to be entrepreneurs as the geeks of Silicon Valley, or the app developers of Austin, Texas. In fact there are 37 million adults in rural communities who consider that they have the ability to start a business [1]. So why don’t more of them commit the act of starting a business? There are several major reasons, including:

A lack of an entrepreneurial ‘ecosystem’; small size of the local market; limited access to funding.

However, there is much help at hand. There are many more, but the seven sources below are among many ways a rural startup be well supported and thrive.

One—the web

The leveling effect of the Web allows you to compete with multinationals. You can set up your business on the kitchen table, make your own website, add PayPal, and then delight in your sales at the same time as you stir the soup. For instance, you can build your team in different locations without traveling, using free collaborations apps like Podio, free for up to 5 users, Flock, with free and pro versions, or Ryver, free because they make money from add-ons. The availability of online learning is leveling the educational map. Here come silicon prairies, digital villages and mobile hamlets.

Two—new funding forms

Many new forms of funding are now available. This applies very much to rural areas. For example there are Community Supported Businesses, where local people provide direct backing often through advance payment for goods or services. My friend Rachel Maxwell, who set up Community Sourced Capital a few years ago, has recreated it as a nonprofit. Borrowers get interest-free loans from friends and people in their local communities.


Crowdfunding can provide funds, too. For the small scale funding normally needed by rural startups, only reward crowdfunding is available right now, but that works well. Here’s an example: the seed sheet produced by Seedsheets, a Vermont rural startup $30K crowdfunded on Kickstarter in December 2014.

Four:—food hubs: More and more food hubs are developing in rural communities. They often enable small food processors and manufacturers to share facilities and learn from one another, for example by using a community kitchen. To learn more about one, look at the Vermont Food Venture Center. Another example of a local food hub is Quad Cities Food Hub[http://www.qcfoodhub.org/] in Iowa.

Five—new business structures

You don’t necessarily have to set up a company. You might simply operate as a solopreneur and register a DBA (Doing Business As), so that you have a name that relates to your activity. This avoids the formalities associated with an LLC or corporation, but of course you would not get limited liability protection. Another route could be as a co-op, such as a food co-op, or a worker co-op. You could register as a Benefit Corporation, or a limited profit company (L3C). It’s all about what is coming to be called the ‘Fourth Sector‘ or the ‘For-Benefit Enterprise’.

Six—space is less expensive

Rural startups have many advantages over urban equivalents. Working space is much less expensive and many rural entrepreneurs set up at home. Here’s a new idea that’s becoming popular: the ‘hoffice’. That’s an office at home that you can share with a small number of other micro-enterprises. It’s sort of an incubator without the overhead. If your office is well set up with desks, printers, or say a 3-D printer that can be shared, you could even add extra income. You want to know more: visit hoffice, a Swedish website in English.

How do I know this?

Because there 56 million people in the US who live outside cities (Census 2010)—19.3% of the total population. And, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2013 US report, 56% of adults between 18-64 believe that they have the capabilities to start a business. Do the math!

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