Lessons Learned from Ecosystem Building in Oregon: Lesson 9

Lesson 9: The culture of entrepreneurship begins in youth.

“Entrepreneurship is a fundamentally optimistic endeavor. It’s about looking at what’s in front of you and seeing possibilities, seeing opportunity. If we think about entrepreneurship from an education standpoint, getting it started early, if we can build a culture of entrepreneurship in rural communities, that’s the best tool for community resilience long term.”
– Robert Killen, Director, Lane SBDC 

Many participating service providers expressed the need to engage youth in order to instill a culture of and familiarity with entrepreneurship from an early age, and that youth entrepreneurship skills are essential for building stronger entrepreneurial ecosystems in rural communities. Youth equipped with these skills can create businesses and find pathways to stay in rural communities, become more valuable employees at other businesses, and in general bring a problem solving mentality to community and personal challenges.

We heard recommendations for building connections between schools and their communities including internships at K-12 levels in order to create opportunities for students and recent returning college graduates that go beyond “agriculture and the family ranch,” and provide career pathways to stay in the region. People highlighted the need to “educate the educators” on the value of entrepreneurship and what it means for the long term health of rural community economies, and to tie education and business together in order to address gaps for local employers and to create a roadmap for the future. “Our mass education system was born out of the industrial revolution when we needed to teach young people how to be factory workers. We now need to teach them how to be entrepreneurs!!!” – Kat Rutledge

Many of the ROI communities are planning or already conducting very popular and growing youth entrepreneur programs in their communities to build this capacity.