Rural entrepreneurship

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On Saturday, I’ll be speaking in Kanab about technology enabling rural entrepreneurship.

I have spoken at a few rural business conferences in Utah in the past. Usually I talk about how internet marketing (Google AdWords, affiliate marketing) and social media (blogging, Twitter, Facebook) can help rural businesses grow. But this time I’m hoping to address the opportunities rural entrepreneurs have to use technology to build companies and create jobs.

Rural Success Stories

I’ve been scouring my personal knowledgebase and a database 4,500 company histories for examples of rural startup companies that made it big. I’m finding a few, such as Backcountry.com (Heber City, Utah) and MyYearbook (New Hope, PA). But I’m not finding very many.

I remember when John Bresee, co-founder of Backcountry.com told me that his company had grown to about 65 employees and had become one of the largest private employers in Heber City. Later they moved to Park City. Now they have 625 employees and revenues of more than $250 million.

Can you imagine how a single company like this could transform a rural community’s economy?

Wal-Mart may be the best historic example of a rural startup that changed a community. But it may not be all that relevant to today’s modern technology entrepreneur. Still, it’s interesting. Bentonville, AK grew from 19,000 population to 35,000 in the past 10 years. I have heard that many product companies who want to sell through Wal-Mart have opened offices in Bentonville or located employees there. Makes a lot of sense. Facetime with Wal-Mart buyers could make all the difference. (I just found that I’m connected on LinkedIn to 151 Wal-Mart buyers, so maybe we don’t all have to move to Bentonville.)

But I need help finding more examples of rural entrepreneurs building high-tech companies.

Do you know of any? Think about software, app development, manufacturing, alternative energy, or any web-based business. Please let me know if you can think of any good examples.

I’ll be looking through the Internet Retailer Top 500 Directory of e-commerce companies, and I expect to find some rural examples there. But I could use help from anyone out there.

Thanks to a suggestion from Gregg Blanchard, Les Prall from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development just gave me a half dozen rural Utah technology companies to look into, and I was excited to learn about them. (Thanks, Les!)

What rural high-tech startups have you heard of?

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3 Responses

  1. Hi Paul,
    In my opinion nothing kills more rural entrepreneurship than “Wal-Mart.” I grew up in a rural community and I saw first hand how Super Wal-Mart ruined the entrepreneurial spirit of my home town. It’s tough for small town grocery, electronic, appliance, home decore, and optometry businesses, etc. to succeed when there is a store present like Wal-Mart.

    I think Wal-Mart is a great success story and I enjoy capitalism as much as the next entrepreneur, but Wal-Mart makes it tough on the retail side of entrepreneurship in rural America. I believe there is not better place to test your entrepreneurial skills than in the small towns of America.

    I know that wasn’t the point of your post, but I thought I would throw my 2 cents in.

    I enjoy reading your posts and tweets. Keep up the good work.


  2. First of all, great site!

    Second, I think a more general view of what you’re talking about is all of the mobile development companies popping up. With the ease of Apple’s App Stores and the various other app stores in the mobile space we’ve seen just how accessible forming a mobile development company can be.

    10 years ago, you needed significant capital and investment to form a company, today it’s so easy that companies are starting up everywhere, including in rural spaces. In my opinion it’s great! It will help the truly innovative and quality companies rise to the top because the entry level for forming a company is almost non-existant.

    Now it’s less about getting a job and more about creating a job. Everyone has an equal opportunity, it’s all about who takes advantage of that!

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