by Timothy Collins, IIRA Assistant Director
Newswise — Studies of entrepreneurship in rural areas increasingly stress the importance of a supportive community environment and social networks in enhancing innovation, according to a recent Rural Research Report from the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs. According to the report's author, Greg Wise, professor and community development specialist and director for the Center for Community and Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin–Extension, the most important factors in developing a culture for entrepreneurship include: building and supporting business skills among entrepreneurs; developing vital resource centers; creating community awareness of and support for entrepreneurs; and building networks and collaboration.
The report, "Wisconsin Inventor & Entrepreneur Clubs: Investment in an Innovative Approach to Entrepreneurship," examines the role these clubs play in promoting entrepreneurship in rural areas. Clubs offer a place for individuals to share new ideas, develop networks, obtain support for their efforts and offer a place to explore new ideas and move them to reality.
Investor and entrepreneur clubs also provide education on feasibility, intellectual property, marketing, financing and business planning. They seem to play a significant role in bolstering the confidence of individual entrepreneurs by offering them a sense of legitimacy.
The clubs have established an e-mail network (Listserv) for their facilitators, and the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs' Network (WEN) provides resources and support. These clubs represent a formal social mechanism to compensate for disadvantages that rural areas face in promoting entrepreneurship.
Although quite young, Wisconsin's innovation and entrepreneurship clubs are becoming an important place for potential entrepreneurs to share ideas, obtain information and make connections with other entrepreneurs. Based on a survey of club facilitators, an impressive number of participants have created jobs, obtained patents and received grants for their ideas and enterprises.
Many clubs reported struggling with attendance and participation. This is not significantly different from the normal course of development of new organizations in general. It is likely there will be some settling out of this "marketplace," based on travel distance, program emphasis, club dynamics and personal interest.
Wisconsin's clubs are part of a larger effort to promote entrepreneurship through the WEN. Participants in I&E Clubs are referred to assistance programs in the network, including local economic-development organizations, regional small business development centers, technical colleges, universities in the Wisconsin system and even private-service providers. As a comprehensive and potentially seamless service provider network, the WEN offers the potential to satisfy the technical support needs of inventors and entrepreneurs by overcoming obstacles, such as low population density and a related lack of a critical mass of resources and peers that are major obstacles to promoting entrepreneurship in rural areas.
You can obtain a copy of the report by contacting IIRA at the phone number below or from our website at http://www.iira.org/pubs/publications/IIRA_RRR_701.pdf.
Western Illinois University is an Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity institution. For more information about the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, see http://www.IIRA.org. If you care to comment about this column, contact Timothy Collins at (800) 526-9943 or T-Collins@wiu.edu.