When you think about towns bustling with entrepreneurs and local businesses, you might not think about tiny rural towns nestled in the forests and mountain ranges of the Pacific Northwest.
Reinventing Rural, a nonprofit organization based in Corvallis, Oregon, is working to change that. Since their founding in 2020, they’ve been working to foster entrepreneurial ecosystems and Main Street innovation in small, rural communities in the Pacific Northwest.
Their goal was simple: they wanted to grow, support, and boost entrepreneurship for rural Oregon communities across the state. To that end, in the midst of the pandemic, Reinventing Rural started searching for entrepreneurship programs that could successfully foster engagement—both virtually and in-person. They needed a program that would accommodate the small scope of the rural towns, and allow them to make connections between communities and foster entrepreneurship despite that scope.
Reinventing Rural knew that running entrepreneurship programs in tiny rural towns was a gamble, but they decided to take the chance. After some research, they settled on CO.STARTERS. They knew that the framework and support offered by CO.STARTERS would provide a stable and consistent foundation that would scale easily to small, rural communities.
In 2021, Reinventing Rural started partnering with local organizations to offer CO.STARTERS Core (closely joined by CO.STARTERS Bootcamp), in multiple counties and rural towns across the state—and the results were undeniable.
Entrepreneurs flocked to the programs, and ecosystems started to emerge. Nearby towns noticed the spark that Reinventing Rural had lit, and asked how they could replicate it in their communities.
“The CO.STARTERS curriculum is what we need, both to establish strong Main Streets and to support our small rural communities."
Founder and Director of Reinventing Rural
One of these communities is Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon, a region known for its wineries. Last spring, the community-building organization A Greater Applegate was searching for a way to both teach and support entrepreneurs in the Applegate area. A community leader named Andrea Letham, who worked in Harney County, Oregon, and had facilitated one of the first cohorts in the state, reached out to Reinventing Rural about partnering with A Greater Applegate. She had seen the success of CO.STARTERS programs in Harney County, and was eager to share their success with Applegate Valley.
“I love that CO.STARTERS connects entrepreneurs to seasoned local businesses,” Letham said. “Their experience and wisdom is key to knowing what it takes to run a business… Learning from your peers is powerful and meaningful.”
Less than a year later, A Greater Applegate was facilitating Applegate Valley’s first-ever CO.STARTERS Core cohort. The cohort maintained and tapped into the region’s unique profile–the whole cohort was composed of food and farm-based businesses. “Applegate is breaking new ground… It was love at first sight and we met many wonderful people all interested in making this region a better place to live and do business,” Brad Attig, the founder and director of Reinventing Rural explained.
“We’re trying to bring entrepreneurship to that last mile on the farm in the middle of nowhere.”
As interest has grown, Reinventing Rural has expanded, partnering with over 10 organizations across the state of Oregon to run over 11 cohorts and graduate over 60 entrepreneurs from CO.STARTERS programs.
Almost all of Reinventing Rural’s CO.STARTERS programs are in-person again, which means that they’ve been able to visit local communities to run CO.STARTERS Bootcamps. They’ve also been able to send local community members to get CO.STARTERS certified, so that rural community members can run CO.STARTERS Core to support their own emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems.
CO.STARTERS programs have supported Reinventing Rural, as Reinventing Rural in turn supports rural entrepreneurs, Brad explained.
Establishing ecosystems in unlikely places is a challenge, but it’s been worth it for Reinventing Rural.
“You might not be successful the first time,” Brad said, “or even the second time. Building rural entrepreneurial communities requires lots of outreach, and lots of perseverance. The CO.STARTERS curriculum is what we need, both to establish strong Main Streets and to support our small rural communities.”
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