$85,000 business plan grant to help rural entrepreneurs influence policy

After the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation awarded the Telluride Foundation and its partners an $85,000 grant last month to spearhead a policy academy, rural entrepreneurs in Colorado have an opportunity for an experience that will help them engage and influence policy decisions at the local and state levels.

Rural entrepreneurs in Colorado have an opportunity for an experience that will help them engage and influence policy decisions at the local and state levels.

The Telluride Foundation, Silicon Flatirons Center at Colorado School of Law, and Startup Colorado, announced in a press release that the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation awarded them an $85,000 grant last month to spearhead a policy academy for rural entrepreneurs.

The collaborative group is focused on increasing rural entrepreneurship and will encourage rural entrepreneurs to push for better policies through the policy academy that was originally scheduled for late summer, but due to the pandemic, should take place in September or October, barring a rescheduling.

“Too often and for too long, America’s policymakers have misguidedly prioritized big business over new business. The grants in this portfolio will bring new ideas and voices to policy debates so that entrepreneurship is no longer an afterthought. Together, they will level the playing field so that anyone with an idea has access to the opportunity, funding, knowledge, and support to turn it into a reality,” Jason Wiens, policy director in entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, said in the press release.

Through the three-day academy, eight rural entrepreneurs and leaders from the Startup Colorado network will be educated to become strong policy advocates. During that process, the leaders will understand they have a voice, and that voice can provide direct input to local, federal, and state policymakers.

“The reality is, a lot of policy gets developed by the loudest voice,” said Paul Major, president and CEO of the Telluride Foundation, in an interview on Tuesday.

Major said corporate interest is heavily considered when policy is developed by policymakers. Being isolated from the capitol and having a distance from policymakers often doesn’t allow rural entrepreneurship, which mainly consists of individuals and small groups, to have a valued voice.

In addition, many rural entrepreneurs have a staff of 15 or less, and considering much of their day job is focused on growing their business, there is little time to get involved with policy and advocacy.

However, Major said, there is an understanding that with few employees, time is limited. The academy will likely help entrepreneurs, many who want to help themselves and other startups, in rural communities amplify their voice, and help policymakers develop policies that will encourage more companies to get started and grow a business outside of the front range.

The last few years have been rough on rural businesses starting up, Major said. The percentage of new startups is low, and the pandemic hasn’t helped matters.

“The trend on the number of new businesses getting started is very bad,” Major said.

A business getting off the ground creates an avenue for employment, Major added, and at times, acts as a primary source for new jobs. In rural Colorado, where businesses help the area grow, a startup would provide employment in the community, and in turn, help the local economy.

The group behind the effort was chosen as one of nine advocates of the Kauffman Foundation entrepreneurship, which, through its “America’s New Business Plan”, is using the voice of entrepreneurs to inform local, regional, and national policy.

With Silicon Flatiron developing curriculum and academy, Startup Colorado’s mission to ignite a culture of potential through rural entrepreneurship, along with Telluride Foundation’s reach on the Western Slope, it was a “natural partnership,” Major said. Silicon Flatiron’s curriculum for the academy will help translate ideas presented by entrepreneurs into actionable policies.

Following the academy, the Telluride Foundation will host a live policy forum. Entrepreneurs will present concepts and policy recommendations to state and federal legislative and agency representatives.

“Our goal is to be in front of policymakers by the end of the year or early next year,” Major said.

Major added the group would like to live stream to the public once the rural entrepreneurs are in front of the policymakers.

For more information or to join the initiative, email startupco@colorado.edu.

Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press

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