Vermont is a startup standout among rural states, and this region is no exception. Rural entrepreneurs face unique challenges we address in three ways, in addition to traditional business services. First, we provide commercial and industrial space to 75 businesses and organizations. Second, we launched a Southern Vermont Business Accelerator. Third, we are increasing economic development capacity across the region through the Southern Vermont Economy Project (SVEP).
The Accelerator offers services based on a federally funded 2016 Feasibility Study that identified a need for “pre-Accelerator” support to effectively move entrepreneurs from concept to formation. We address acute needs with classes and office space, but also run events to foster an entrepreneurial environment and culture, making it easier to network, and to find funding, training, and mentors.
Above all businesses need capital. Rural economies suffer from a lack of investors and risk-tolerant lenders. The Windham County Economic Development Program (WCEDP) funded through the Vermont Yankee closure funds businesses and non-profits. It helped launch the Windham Grows accelerator (hatchery) – a critical investment in the region’s value-added food sector. This fall a new revolving loan fund through the USDA Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) comes online.
Programs and funding complement our 500,000 sf of incubator space that provides a safe, low-cost, flexible yet predictable environment for new and growing businesses. The combination of community, services and space has helped hundreds of firms to start and grow here over the years. But the region needs an economic development system that touches down in every community. To build that we partnered with Bennington County to secure a USDA Rural Community Development Initiatives (RCDI) grant, one of only 23 awarded nationwide. The Southern Vermont Economy Project (SVEP) works with 13 grant partners – municipalities, chambers of commerce, regional commissions, downtown organizations and nonprofits. This group is becoming a robust economic development network working to serve the entire region.
In fall 2016 the INSTIG8 Idea Jam –drew people to a high-energy pitch event with several pitchers; offered free or low-cost classes on social media and digital marketing, sponsored by Mondo Mediaworks. This year we held a series of monthly meetups “802 Cups” in several towns. In May SVEP hosted the SoVermont Economic Development Summit at Stratton. Over 130 business and non-profit leaders, public officials and private citizens who share a concern about the region’s economy came to hear from Governor Scott, Secretary Schirling of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, Federal Reserve and Vermont economists, and expert panelists.
Leveraging more state and federal programs like VtSBDC, PTAC and assistance via the SBA HUBZONE designation. Developing a regional network for startups through relationships with Keene’s Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship Bennington’s Lightning Jar, to offer more programs, training and counseling. Pursuing federal and foundation funding to launch a Rural Entrepreneurial Innovation Network (REIN).
Resources, networks and partners to deliver the comprehensive programs, services and funding entrepreneurs need to thrive. Building the culture to attract and keep them here.
- SVEP is hosting weekly online Webinar trainings.
- Three day-long Southern Vermont events are in the works – one on Rural broadband, one by and for town leaders, and one workshop on grant writing and management.
- INSTIG8 is continuing classes for entrepreneurs and wantrapreneurs to connect with training, resources and one another.
- The INSTIG8 mentor network launches, to leverage local expertise in support of a new generation of entrepreneurs.
- A Rural Entrepreneur and Innovation Network (REIN) will link regional entrepreneurial resources, with private industry leading the charge.