Our Community Leader Highlight this month is with Katherine Roth from Jamestown, North Dakota.
She serves as the Executive Director of the Jamestown Regional Entrepreneur Center, which is hosting this year’s Techstars Startup Weekend Jamestown for the second time. The Jamestown Regional Entrepreneur Center supports the creation of rural startups in North Dakota by providing technical assistance, customized training, entrepreneur-led discussions, and entrepreneur-focused networking and training events. She have a passion for empowering individuals and organizations in achieving strategic goals.
Prior to working with the Entrepreneur Center, Katherine served as a consultant to the University of Jamestown and wrote the USDA Rural Development grant to secure project funding. As well, I worked in the federal government with much of this time at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Working in a capacity that serves others and the greater community is personally very meaningful. In my free time I am running for the North Dakota State Senate in District 29 with the Dem-NPL party and would like to serve as a proponent for family farming, youth STEM experiential education initiatives, and small businesses in the state legislature.
Why do you do what you do?
I live in Jamestown, North Dakota, which is a rural community in the south central region of the state. One key way to ensure rural sustainability and community livability is through supporting local entrepreneurs. Our center aims to support the economic vitality of our region.
What’s new for the Jamestown Regional Entrepreneur Center?
Techstars Startup Weekend is still very new to us! We participated last year in late 2017 and we are excited to deliver this program within the regional community again in 2018. North Dakota has great access to the internet and the cost of living is reasonable. This combination makes it a great place to start up.
In Jamestown, as throughout most of North Dakota, the commutes are short. The regional and statewide resources available to support new business ventures are impressive. The Jamestown Regional Entrepreneur Center welcomes public inquiries to learn more about business opportunities!
Meet Heather Fisher from West Plains, Missouri:
I am the director of OzSBI (Ozarks Small Business Incubator), which is where the event will be held. I mentor our small businesses, run our business development programs, assist with our microloan program, and am on a mission to get new ideas launched in our community. About me–I live on a 200 acre farm, have 2 sons, 1 husband, 3 cats, 1 dog and a pet pig. I love the outdoors, was in the Peace Corp in Thailand, had my own grant writing business for 10 years, and have always worked for nonprofits.
Why do you do what you do?
I live in a rural Ozarks of southern Missouri. Ever since I moved here 20 years ago I’ve been working to help the economy grow. Rural areas need to stay viable and through the small business incubator I help start local businesses and create jobs for the community. My goal is to use economic means to improve the social conditions for individuals, families, and communities.
What’s new for West Plains?
Techstars Startup Weekend! I was tasked by the governor of the state to spur technology businesses in Missouri. How does a rural community compete? If startups can be everywhere, why not here? We work with a lot of service communities that circulate local dollars. We’re hoping that an influx of tech businesses will tip the balance of trade and bring new dollars into our community. Techstars Startup Weekend seems to be the right program to help us get our start.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Rural communities are great places to live and work. I’ve traveled all around the world and always come back to rural parts of the country. We may be a flyover state, but there’s bright, creative people here that just need a bit of a confidence boost to move forward with new ideas in order to start new companies.
As one walks around Silicon Valley, you can recognize that entrepreneurship is alive and within reach. Every day hundreds of individuals cram into shuttles, and arrive at their tech job at some of the most influential companies in the world such as Google, Apple, and Facebook. What’s even more amazing is that these centers of technology aren’t the only ones producing change. Scattered all around the Bay area are a plethora of individuals working in their basements, living rooms, or attics. They are obsessively engaged in a new type of product, hoping that their creation will revolutionize the world. But drive an hour and a half west and you will bear witness to empty dry fields, closed down businesses, and even bankrupt cities.
This drastic change in scenery makes one wonder if a wrong turn was made into another third world country. Unfortunately, entrepreneurship is on the decline within the United States. The Kauffman Foundation released a study revealing new business formation has recently fallen between 7 and 8 percent and continues downward, the numbers are even worse for minorities, women, and rural areas. In a country that worships rugged individualism and the free market, why aren’t we seeing revolutionary giants across rural USA? Where are the skyscrapers that populate the horizon of small towns in the new millennium?
The small town infrastructure often runs into problems that urban centers never deal with. Oftentimes, one type of business dominates the economic life, which works out for a period of time. The mindset of these smaller communities often is rote and industrial in nature. Why innovate if life is already good? Change might not happen until the resource runs out and an entire region is put into jeopardy, such as the history of the Rust Belt.
Entrepreneurship is a means to an end, which helps create a world that is better in terms of higher quality health, leisure, politics, education, and resources. An entrepreneur will always be an agent of change, which is why the status quo is their most dangerous enemy. The status quo can often induce a sense of false peace in individuals and societies at large, however if history has taught humanity anything is that change is the only constant we can look forward to. Therefore, hindsight, courage, persistence, and visionary capabilities are needed to push for a better tomorrow, even if today is A-OK.
With that being said, the small town entrepreneur faces more challenges from the system that sustains the little village. Access to capital hinders scaling. Small town banks are risk averse, hindering the agents of change. Low populations, non-existent tourism, and access all hamper the entrepreneur from realizing their dream in their own hometown. The migration of motivated individuals to urban centers makes considerable sense once you look at the big picture, but at the same time the small town loses their most prized resource; people. How can entrepreneurs save the small town from becoming irrelevant, and not just a purgatory for capable human beings waiting to leave to the big city?
It is important to remember that an entrepreneur does not always have to produce new software or technological advancement to be considered a success or create impact. Some of the most innovative entrepreneurs have influenced powerful age-old industries just by initiating new ideas, such as Temple Grandin, who was born autistic but using her insight designed a more humane and immensely cost effective system by which to herd cattle. People who live in urban centers do not worry about the same issues small towns face, which is why it is so important that denizens push for innovation and prosperity from within. Do not expect an outsider to care or cure societal ills, which leads me to the biggest road block a small town faces; culture.
Community is the strongest tool a town has to solve their problems. Indeed, many towns take pride in solving their own issues without government interference. The culture can be a double-edged sword, if structural band-aids are commonly used to solve local issues; in the long run this is not a sustainable model. Entrepreneurs need to reinvent their villages to become their own powerhouses of innovation and prosperity in the modern age. The tools are widely available, all one needs is to create a space for people to convene and create ideas. Small towns are ideal, because venue costs are much lower, business owners know the community on a personal level and would be willing to pitch in their resources for the benefit of the community. Urban folk have a harder time maintaining a community let alone saying Hi to their next-door apartment neighbor.
Startup Weekend is a perfect incubator for innovation in small towns. Locals get the opportunity to create a space in their terms, solve their own problems, and continue to foster a tighter knit town. Urban centers are not concerned with the welfare of their rural neighbors, nor could they possibly understand their challenges and hurdles. The small town is in major need of an upgrade, better resource management and services, which are scarce and oftentimes inaccessible to most in America. How as Americans could we be proud of ourselves if we cannot measure up to our neighbors from within? How can the small town survive in a postmodern world where the pressures of technology, environmental disasters, and political stagnation continue to put a gridlock for towns? It’s time to host a Startup Weekend and find out.