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STEP for Small Business

STEP for Small Business focuses the community economic development efforts of small towns on entrepreneurship and small business development through community coaching, technical assistance, leadership training, and capital formation.  The goal is to build the capacity of participating towns to proactively cultivate entrepreneurs and small businesses within their communities – seeding a locally-led loan fund is a critical final step in the process.  Funding for the program is provided through a USDA Rural Community Development Initiative grant.

The Rural Center has partnered with the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship to apply their Energizing Entrepreneurship Framework in these North Carolina rural towns.  Visit energizingentrepreneurs.org to learn more about the approach.  The three-year program’s key elements include:

  • Assessing opportunity and prioritizing small town business development goals;
  • Building the capacity of town leaders to implement the Entrepreneurship Framework; and
  • Providing $100,000 in seed funding to each town to establish a locally-led small business loan fund.

Entrepreneurs live at the heart of small town economic development – they recognize opportunities and pull together the assets, resources and talent needed to create new economic activity.  The Rural Center’s philosophy embraces the critical need to support people in rural communities who are creating and growing local ventures; these businesses, in turn, become the drivers of a community’s economic prosperity. STEP for Small Business helps communities create a proactive pipeline of support that helps more people succeed at starting or growing a venture. The seven towns participating in this pilot project are Marion, Lansing, Elkin, Star, Siler City, Elizabethtown, and Scotland Neck. 

Capacity Building Process

A coach from the Rural Center helps each community create a tailored program to expand their capacity to identify, build, or invest directly in the assets needed to create an entrepreneur development system.  There is no “one size fits all” approach to community economic development and the training component of the capacity building process includes both basic training from the Energizing Entrepreneurship Framework and more customized elements.

Community-led Loan Funds

In addition to its coaching and capacity building roles, the Rural Center has seeded $100,000 loan funds in each community. The Center provides underwriting and fund administration services, and a committee of local leadership promotes the fund, conducts intake and advises on investment decisions. Funds are prioritized to support the community’s development goals and leverage private investment.