Rural Entrepreneurship Summit

Rural Entrepreneurship Summit

The American Dream promises that every entrepreneur who works hard will have a chance to build a great lifestyle. Unfortunately, opportunity isn’t the same in every part of the country. In rural communities, resources, support and access to capital are severely limited. Perhaps no area of the country better represents this reality than Central Appalachia, a region that has recently seen profound economic challenges.

On November 17, 2016, Village Capital, in partnership with The Hitachi Foundation, will hold a half-day Rural Entrepreneurship Summit in Blacksburg, Virginia, an opportunity for entrepreneurs, community leaders, investors, and economic development experts to explore ideas and strategies for building thriving entrepreneurial ecosystems in Central Appalachia and beyond.

We are recruiting entrepreneurs for this summit — more information below.


According to a recent report by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), just 12 out of 420 counties in Central Appalachia are considered “competitive” or “thriving.” The region’s largely rural economy has in the past depended on industries such as rail, textiles, tobacco and coal, but a series of macro-economic trends have led to a decline in these industries resulting in, for example, the disappearance of nearly 13,000 coal jobs in Kentucky in the past decade. However, Central Appalachia also offers a vision and an ongoing test case for how to respond to economic challenges with  economic development efforts intentionally centered around entrepreneurship.

There has been a concerted effort recently on behalf of state, federal and regional governments, as well as private businesses and foundations, to support entrepreneurship across the area. Efforts include LaunchTN, a public-private partnership that supports entrepreneurs across Tennessee; SOAR, an accelerator program in Eastern Kentucky supported by elected officials; several programs dedicated to Southwest Virginia including MySW VA; and federal initiatives run through the Appalachian Regional Commission. One leader in the region called this time of transition a “terrifying liberation” — a chance to create a new future for those who call Central Appalachia home.


We are recruiting high-growth entrepreneurs to join us for this summit — for training, mentorship, a $5k pitch competition, and entrepreneur-centric conversations about how to better support startups in rural areas.

Specifically, we are recruiting entrepreneurs from counties in Central Appalachia that are defined as “distressed”, “at-risk” or “transitional” by the ARC’s 2017 index (marked as red, tan or white; see .jpeg version here).

To be eligible, an entrepreneur must fall into one of two categories:

  • The entrepreneur is located in a county with the “distressed”, “at-risk” or “transitional” designation
  • The entrepreneur originally founded their business in a county with that designation, and has since moved (for instance, to join an incubator or accelerator program).

Priority will be given to ventures working in the following sectors: health, fintech, energy, education, agriculture, broadband access, and (for-profit) business innovations that improve the lives of low-wealth, rural communities. Further, eligible enterprises must have an established Minimum Viable Product (MVP), at least one full-time team member, and have raised less than $1M in equity.

The deadline to apply is October 28, 2016. Apply today!

The summit will be facilitated by Village Capital, a Washington, DC-based venture development organization that has supported 500 entrepreneurs globally, and engages local and regional mentors. The selected entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to:

  • Undergo Village Capital’s award-winning curriculum and one-on-one time with industry-leading mentors
  • Participate in sessions on strategically building a team and refining their business’ value proposition;
  • Participate in a forum with rural entrepreneurship practitioners;
  • Participate in a pitch event for a $5,000 grant prize

Questions? E-mail Ben Wrobel at [email protected]