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Virginia Tech Explores Urban-Rural Entrepreneurship via Kauffman Foundation Grant

Posted by Conaway Haskins on Jul 03, 2017

The Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development recently completed a year-long project focused on identifying methods for analyzing the entrepreneurial climate of mixed urban-rural economies like the Roanoke-Blacksburg region. Led by Sarah Lyon-Hill, Senior Economic Development Specialist, the project was funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and contributes to research on the entrepreneurial climate of mixed urban-rural communities.

“Most [of the Kauffman Foundation’s] existing research looks at states or at large metro areas. We wanted to look at how entrepreneurial climate research would work for mixed urban-rural communities like Roanoke-Blacksburg” says Lyon-Hill who recently shared her office’s work at the national conferences of the American Planning Association and the University Economic Development Association.

Lyon-Hill and her team collected and assessed over 100 metrics that can be used to characterize an entrepreneurial ecosystem in a mixed urban-rural region. For example, researchers using this evaluative framework might investigate the amount of seed funding available to local entrepreneurs or examine how startups begin and thrive with the help of regional technical assistance programs. These metrics can be combined in order to provide a holistic picture of a region’s entrepreneurial health and highlight obstacles that might impede small business and entrepreneurial development.

When policy makers or local business councils have a comprehensive understanding of entrepreneurial health, they are better able to help small businesses and entrepreneurs succeed. According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses have provided 55% of all jobs and 66% of all net new jobs since the 1970s.

In assessing the entrepreneurial health of the Roanoke-Blacksburg region, Lyon-Hill and her team identified three main findings. First, this region needs to better inventory and measure its entrepreneurial ecosystem in order to identify strengths and weaknesses. Second, this region needs to foster inclusiveness and connect rural and minority entrepreneurs with the larger resource networks of the region. Third, this region needs to attend to the unique needs of businesses in different stages of development.

As Lyon-Hill enters the next stage of her work with regional entrepreneurial ecosystems, she hopes to apply the lessons learned during this research, coordinate a regional effort to collectively gather relevant regional metrics, and generate a more comprehensive and evolving portrait of the regional entrepreneurial and small business climate.

“Most people we talked with wanted to understand the lifecycle of a business in this region. When do entrepreneurs and businesses face the largest challenges to continuing their business? When do they fail? What can our region do to help these businesses succeed?’” says Lyon-Hill.

With her framework for measurement, Lyon-Hill and researchers in similar rural-urban areas around the nation may be able to answer this question and help connect entrepreneurs with the resources they need to succeed.

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