November 15, 2016

Oregon Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative

Description of the core change(s) brought by this policy instrument

Oregon’s rural entrepreneurship initiative aims at building local capacity to support entrepreneurship in rural communities around Oregon. The long terms goal is to use technology to create a connected statewide ecosystem of support services where rural entrepreneurs can access the same high quality tools as urban entrepreneurs, no matter where they live or who they are.

Please list the implementing agencies

Business Oregon, the state agency for economic development

Please name the policy advisor(s) or leader(s) who have been key in introducing and/or designing this policy instrument

A new statewide entrepreneurship council is being formed to review prospective rural communities to compete for capacity funding and connection to the statewide, Startup Oregon network.

Lifecycle of target firms for this policy instrument
Start-up firms
Support offered
Non-financial Support
Level of intervention
Barrier(s) addressed with this policy tool
Ecosystem Engagement/Coordination
Policy timeline

The rural entrepreneurship program is currently being run as a pilot with four rural communities and two virtual programs in Oregon. Business Oregon is seeking funding to expand the pilot initiative to more communities in this upcoming 2017-19 legislative session. The rural initiative is not meant to be permanent but catalyze local capacity for a two to four year funding cycle with local plans for sustainability. The Startup Oregon platform will be a permanent resource for all communities and entrepreneurs in Oregon and will require continued, albeit very small, funding indefinitely.

Stated goal/metrics of the policy instrument

To better connect communities and entrepreneurs around Oregon to access mentoring, training, coaching, and capital. Supported communities will measure their success by how many community partners are actively involved in collaborative local efforts, the number of entrepreneurs who receive services locally, and jobs created by companies served. Metrics for the platform will be statewide engagement and access, richness of content offered, affiliate revenue and sponsorship, number of entrepreneurs served and their success stories.    

Evidence of results

To date, the four rural communities have worked toward their local models for centers for entrepreneurship, their local collaboratives and their revenue models. Unexpected follow on support from banks and foundations has already been contributed. Buildings are being acquired, letters of intent have been signed by local partners to co-locate in a center for entrepreneurship and many entrepreneurs have already purchased space in our first center to open. The Startup Oregon platform has been drafted and content is being tested. 

Challenges, criticisms and lessons

Financial constraints in building this capacity is one of the larger constraints. Local leadership is ultimately the most important thing. Many rural communities have a great deal of underutilized real estate assets, but without a strong local collabrative that can weather politics and self-serving interests, any investment efforts will not be successful. Cultural shifts toward entrepreneurial thinking can also take time and must be done at the local level. This is a hard thing for the state to design and build a traditional set of metrics for because each region has unique needs and opportunities that will naturally develop at a different pace.  

Notes and additional context

The rural entrepreneurship initiative was founded after listening to hundreds of entrepreneurs and their experiences building a business in Oregon. We found that services were 1) invisible to the entrepreneur, 2) inaccessible by some kinds of industries or populations, 3) insufficient or unavailable at the local level. 

Geographic scope