By Ladan Manteghi and Jeff Reid
Ladan Manteghi is executive director of the Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. GSEI trains future leaders to address social challenges while creating economic value.
Jeff Reid is founding director of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative. GEI inspires entrepreneurial thinking, teaches lessons learned by other entrepreneurs, connects entrepreneurs to useful resources, and helps them pursue their own unique entrepreneurial interests.
Innovation. Abundant opportunity. Thriving communities. This is what the American Farm Bureau Federation and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business envision in our multi-year collaboration to help strengthen rural America.
Rural entrepreneurship is the first focus of our partnership with AFBF as we aim to ignite the entrepreneurial spark that exists not only within the farm gate, but also beyond, extending to those who are not farmers or ranchers. Our partnership was revealed to a broader community on Jan. 13 at the recent AFBF annual convention, when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted the effort to spur entrepreneurial activity in rural communities nationwide in his remarks.
“It creates a sense of entrepreneurship so that you have investors and entrepreneurs looking for opportunities to start businesses in rural areas,” Vilsack said. “The program dovetails with what we are doing at USDA – trying to educate investment banks and investors about the opportunities to invest in rural opportunities.”
Where there are challenges, there are windows of opportunity. Young people who left their communities are slowly returning and starting new businesses – agritourism, mobile testing of dairy and animal products, real estate investment to preserve farm land then leasing parcels and giving new farmers a way to learn the business.
Farmers, ranchers and residents of rural communities are aging. At the same time, a growing need for business ventures to deliver healthcare, food and other needs exists. Internet broadband has significantly expanded in rural communities, opening the window for more education opportunities for children and adults alike. But many additional opportunities are available.
To ensure that the rural entrepreneurship program’s offerings are on target, at the convention we interviewed more than 20 individuals who are already thinking of ways to start new businesses in the next year. We heard enthusiastic anticipation for what’s to come. These aspiring entrepreneurs told us they want mentoring, help creating business plans, access to financing, a community of peers and targeted programming. As we inquired about whether they would participate in the Rural Innovation Challenge that we intend to launch in the coming year, it was apparent that we had struck the collegial and competitive chord of this community.
Over the coming months, we will field an entrepreneurship and innovation survey for additional insights to inform our program development. And in the coming year, be on the lookout for news and updates on our key activities.
Innovation and inventiveness are at the heart of what has always made rural America hardy. Fueling new thinking and providing tools that can help turn those great ideas into lucrative realities will result in even stronger communities across the country.