Supporting Entrepreneurship in Montana by Sarah Grissom

November 17, 2022

Serving with Accelerate Montana’s Rural Innovation Initiative (AMRII) has exposed me to the importance of supporting local businesses and entrepreneurship throughout Montana. Stimulating the local economy through business by providing support is important but not the only component that helps businesses and entrepreneurs to succeed. The purpose of economic development is to alleviate poverty by appealing to communities’ entrepreneurial spirit to create a sustainable local economy. However, this comes with barriers for rural or Indigenous people who are not geographically close to resources that could aid them in starting or expanding their businesses. 

Entrepreneurism and small businesses have always been in the fabric of rural communities, and businesses are built without the resources provided by economic development agencies. Our role in the economic makeup of Montana is to add to the library of resources that we possess that may be helpful to early-stage entrepreneurs. Our prerogative is not to tell business owners best practices or how to create a successful business but rather rally around those groups to encourage them to reach their goals.

To mitigate the barriers that rural and Indigenous entrepreneurs face, we at AMRII have created a resources library on our website that walks people through the Lean Startup Method in an accessible way. The Lean Startup Method is often hailed as the Bible for starting a small business in modern-day America. However, it is relatively inaccessible if you do not have a business degree. By rewording and providing auxiliary materials, we hope the people of Montana will have an easier time wading into the world of entrepreneurship and small business development. 

One of the many complaints we hear as we travel through rural Montana is the lack of knowledge surrounding online marketing and sales. So, on top of creating resources around the Lean Startup Method, we have expanded our resource library to include information about social media marketing and domain creation for businesses who want to create an online presence. While it is not a complete marketing course, it provides the basics for setting up business accounts on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Shopify, etc. The component of domain creation is for people who want to quickly create a website that can make their products and services more accessible to their market. This added resource will save people the time and energy to figure these things out independently and allow them to focus on other aspects of their business. 

Libraries have been a longstanding meeting space for community members and an intellectual resource to their communities. Because of this preexisting community relationship, we have focused on dispersing our content to libraries as a safe space for people to come and learn about small business. We hope libraries will become community resources and be touchstones for potential entrepreneurs or those interested in starting a business. As noted above, entrepreneurship has always existed in these spaces. Our goal is to make it easier for those businesses to come to fruition in an ever-changing economic atmosphere.

Sarah is an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Accelerate Montana’s Rural Innovation Initiative