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Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship

Support Systems


The institute has worked for the past five years at both the state and regional levels to improve economies in rural communities by creating a systematic approach to encourage business start-ups and expansions. The goals are to:

  • ensure the availability and coordination of education and training programs, technical assistance, capital sources and business networks so that rural entrepreneurs and prospective entrepreneurs understand how to take advantage of available opportunities
  • better prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs by providing middle and high school students with entrepreneurship education and hands-on business development opportunities
  • promote a community-wide culture of innovation, opportunity and business friendliness

A system perspective focuses on building a vibrant regional economy, with key roles for community leaders, policy makers, teachers and prominent entrepreneurs, not just for the service providers helping businesses with transactions. It requires collaboration among many individuals and organizations to leverage each other’s expertise.


A fully developed entrepreneurship support will include:

  1. Education and training in entrepreneurial skills for business owners and their workers
  2. One-on-one technical assistance in developing and implementing sound business models
  3. Business financing for the entire continuum from self-employed to growth company
  4. Business-to-business networks within a region or economic cluster
  5. Community leadership that recognizes and advocates for small businesses
  6. Policy that accelerates job and wealth creation

These elements are supported by various state and national studies with entrepreneurs about what they need to thrive. For example, see  Understanding the Environment for Entrepreneurship in Rural North Carolina.


Any community can begin to build a supportive culture for entrepreneurship and map out a place-based strategy, but generally it takes a region to offer all six elements of a system.


The Rural Center has undertaken two multiyear projects specifically targeted to creating entrepreneurship support systems.


Entrepreneurship Development Systems, a regional approach: 2008-11

This work focuses on deepening and sustaining entrepreneurial support in two economically distressed regions of the state.



$600,000 appropriation of the N.C. General Assembly to the Rural Center


Participating regions

  • Southeast Entrepreneurial Alliance: Bladen, Columbus, Hoke, Robeson and Scotland counties. Lead organization, UNC-Pembroke Regional Center for Economic, Community and Professional Development. Regional entrepreneurship coordinator: Kim Pevia.
  • Northeast Entrepreneurial Team: Pasquotank, Perquimans, Camden, Chowan and Gates counties. Lead organization, River City Community Development Corp.Regional entrepreneurship coordinator: Erica Ramjohn.

What the program entails

Each team receives a $100,000 grant to underwrite the personnel and mileage costs of a regional entrepreneurship coordinator. These coordinators are working with the Rural Center's Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship, other members of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Alliance, and local groups to create a collaborative regional system for entrepreneurship development. Their teams include leadership from local government and grassroots organizations and encourage anyone interested in entrepreneurship development to get involved.


The grants pay a total of half of the cost of the coordinator over three years, starting July 1, 2008. The Rural Center's share of the cost decreases over the three-year period, from 80 percent in the first year to 20 percent in the final year. The grant recipient will pick up the ever-increasing share of the cost and is expected to have a self-sustaining program at the end of the period.


Highlights of accomplishments and directions

 Both regions have established regional service provider networks as well as local entrepreneur networks within their counties.  Both regions have one or more local school systems offering entrepreneurship camps and enterprise development activities for high school students. Both regions find strong interest among their rural entrepreneurs in certain key economic growth sectors such as local food systems and green business. In 2010 both regions are enlisting leaders who can champion and raise funds for the continuation of these regional networks beyond the life of the grant.



The institute also will support entrepreneurship collaborations in other interested regions.


To participate in your region

Contact Leslie Scott or Barry Ryan.


Entrepreneurship Development System for Rural North Carolina: 2005-08

This three-year project focused on improving and broadening entrepreneurial support throughout the state's 85 rural counties. Special emphasis was directed to regions with persistently high levels of poverty and to African American, Hispanic and American Indian communities, who often have been underserved by current business development programs.



$2 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation



The project began with a joint proposal involving 21 members of the Business Resource Alliance (now called the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Alliance), led by the Rural Center. Nearly 30 organizations were actively involved in the project:


Rural Center/Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship

Council for Entrepreneurial Development

e-NC Authority

Good Work

IDA and Asset-Building Collaborative of North Carolina

Junior Achievement of Eastern North Carolina

N.C. Community Development Initiative Capital

N.C. Indian Economic Development Initiative

N.C. Institute for Minority Economic Development

NC REAL Enterprises

Rural Policy Research Institute/Center for Rural Entrepreneurship

Self-Help Credit Union

Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments

Appalachian State University/Appalachian Rural Development Institute

N.C. Community College System Small Business Center Network

East Carolina University

Western Carolina University

N.C. State University/Industrial Extension Service

N.C. State University/Cooperative Extension Service

Small Business and Technology Development Center

UNC-Chapel Hill/School of Government

UNC Pembroke

N.C. Department of Commerce/Business ServiCenter

N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services/Marketing Division

N.C. Department of Public Instruction

Practical Lessons Inc.

Paul Combs Enterprises

Entreworks Consulting

RTI International


Major accomplishments

Developed resource materials to help rural leaders and entrepreneurs.

Initiated the North Carolina Entrepreneurship Summit. This event brings entrepreneurs and service providers together to celebrate and work for North Carolina’s small businesses and entrepreneurs. The Rural Center played the lead role in organizing the first two summits, in 2007 and 2008, and continues as a cosponsor. Learn more about the summits.


Established six regional networks. Each network had its own individual leaders and partners, but all shared a mission: to make it easier for entrepreneurs to get what they need to succeed.

  • Upper Coastal Plain. This five-county region, based in Rocky Mount, held four small business resource meetings to link entrepreneurs with support resources. Furthermore, it led an effort to make entrepreneurship resources available at six rural public libraries, created a SCORE chapter of volunteer business counselors, opened a business incubator and collected local data for the Resource Navigator, a web-based tool for business support.
  • Northeast. Based in Elizabeth City, this region's approach included collaboration among three major service providers and a focus on African American youth entrepreneurs. It won one of two grants to hire a regional entrepreneurship coordinator to maintain momentum (see preceding section).
  • Southeast. Based in Lumberton, this region included a diverse group of grassroots leaders who met regularly. It won one of two grants to hire a regional entrepreneurship coordinator to maintain momentum (see preceding section).
  • South Central. Counties in this region, based in Asheboro, pursued entrepreneurship related to manufacturing, the arts, tourism and outdoor recreation.
  • Northwest. The High Country Business Network rotated meetings around the eight-county region based in Boone. The network included business service providers, public libraries and JobLink centers. The region collected data from its counties for the Resource Navigator, a web-based tool for business support, and had several counties participate in the Certified Entrepreneurial Communities program offered by AdvantageWest. Currently the network is less active but has put on some events related to green business opportunities.
  • Southwest. Based in Sylva, this region also included counties participating in the Certified Entrepreneurial Communities program. In addition, Western Carolina University and Haywood Community College developed an agreement to offer a "2+2" entrepreneurship degree program.

Promoted entrepreneurship among minority communities.

  • The video "In Their Own Words" profiles minority entrepreneurs in North Carolina. It includes African American, American Indian and Hispanic entrepreneurs. The plans for the video were developed by a diverse team of organizations that serve these markets.
  • Several rural entrepreneurs connected with corporate CEOs through the Executive Networking Conference of the N.C. Institute for Minority Economic Development.

Trained local leaders in entrepreneurship development.

  • The institute offered the Energizing Entrepreneurship three-day planning retreat four times over a two-year period and trained over 200 rural leaders.
  • The UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government and the RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship developed and delivered a one-day seminar for local officials about entrepreneurship in two locations, east and west.
  • In April 2008, the Rural Center and partnering organizations held six workshops around the state to train community leaders in how to facilitate business-to-business networking in their local communities. Approximately 140 people attended.

Nationwide EDS initiative

The Entrepreneurship Development System for Rural North Carolina was one of six projects funded nationally by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation under the Entrepreneurship Development Systems for Rural America project. Each project received $2 million over three years. Other projects were based in Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota and West Virginia. The Aspen Institute report Revitalizing Rural Economies through Entrepreneurship Development Systems summarizes the nationwide initiative.