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Focus on Agriculture

August 26, 2014

Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge Opens Doors for Community Success

By Morgan Slaven

Innovation and entrepreneurship are two words that are more likely to be associated with Silicon Valley than rural America. These two words, however, describe many small businesses in rural communities across the country according to Dr. Lisa Benson, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s director of rural development.

“Rural business owners have a unique comparative advantage to urban businesses with access to affordable land, passionate employees and a customer base that relies on their products,” says Benson. “It’s everything that a successful business needs to have.”

The Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge is a competition that can provide rural business owners with a jump start. The challenge is a competition for both startup businesses and existing businesses wishing to implement an innovative expansion. Not only will finalists have the chance to compete for up to $30,000, but the top four will be provided a year’s worth of business advice and feedback from leading entrepreneurial experts.

“There has been a trend of young people leaving rural communities because they feel like there is nothing there for them,” says Benson. “We want to showcase rural business owners that are activating economic development in their small towns, drawing people in to create jobs and providing local products and services.”

Following the application and interviewing rounds, finalists will pitch their business plans in front of a team of expert judges and a live audience at the 96th American Farm Bureau Annual Convention, Jan. 11-14 in San Diego. A grand prize winner will win $30,000 and the title of American Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneur of the Year. Three runners-up will receive $15,000 to implement their ideas. Even the live audience has a chance to vote for their favorite finalists through a social media app. The finalists with the most votes will receive the People’s Choice Award and $10,000. The grand prize and finalist awards will be announced on stage at the final session.

“Ultimately, we want this competition to build awareness among our Farm Bureau members that creating businesses can have a huge positive impact on local communities,” says Benson. “When rural businesses thrive, rural communities thrive.”

The challenge is a marquee program of the Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative, a joint program of the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Global Social Enterprise Initiative and Startup Hoyas at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. The mission of the partnership is to provide resources, tools and promotion to help entrepreneurs turn great ideas into lucrative realities, which will result in even stronger rural communities across the country.

The online application is open from through Sept. 15. Learn more about the challenge and apply at StrongRuralAmerica.com.


Morgan Slaven is a program assistant for membership and program development at the American Farm Bureau Federation.