Building a strong rural America through entrepreneurship
Dr. Lisa Benson, director of rural development at the American Farm Bureau Federation, described to the House Small Business Agriculture, Energy and Trade Subcommittee the organization’s focus on programs to enhance entrepreneurship.
“Entrepreneurship can be a tool to sustain economic growth, create local jobs and improve the quality of life for rural Americans,” Benson said. “When rural entrepreneurs succeed, rural communities thrive and prosper.”
Farm Bureau wanted a program where “the rubber meets the road” and one that highlights successful business opportunities in rural America, said Benson. This focus led to the creation of the Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative and the kick-off of the Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge. The Challenge is the first national business competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs with food and agriculture businesses.
“The competition identifies rural entrepreneurs with unique products and strong business skills,” said Benson.
Through the competition, AFBF has supported more than 1,000 rural entrepreneurs from 37 states, providing more than $500,000 in startup capital, mentorship, networking with investors and publicity. For the 2018 competition, 471 applications were submitted from 47 states and Puerto Rico. Awards will be presented Oct. 23 for the best startup in several categories that highlight diverse and emerging trends in food and agriculture, including agricultural technology, craft beverage, agritourism, farm-to-table, farming and local product.
Entrepreneurs with ag tech businesses have dominated the Challenge winners’ circle but many of them struggle with accessing enough capital to scale up production. This led to the creation of the Agriculture Investment Summit, explained Benson. Through the summit, rural entrepreneurs are connected with investors from venture capital funds and accelerator programs. At the first summit, held in January, AFBF brought together 35 rural entrepreneurs and 25 experts and investors representing more than $300 million in investment funds.
“Supporting rural entrepreneurs is critical to enhancing and strengthening rural communities,” Benson said. “We continue to work with rural entrepreneurs to help them overcome obstacles and achieve their dreams for their businesses.”
Learn more at the Strong Rural America website: StrongRuralAmerica.com.