Watch: "ESHIP Summit 2019 | Joe Kapp" | 19:46

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A life of meaning
Senior Multimedia Writer & Producer, Public Affairs Kauffman Foundation

A life of meaning

Joe Kapp is working to break down barriers to create access to resources and opportunities that clear a path to entrepreneurship for those in rural America.

Entrepreneurship is the next major social justice issue, says Joe Kapp, co-founder of @RuralRISE. "We [ecosystem builders] have the opportunity to help people take responsibility and ownership of their own lives."

Joe Kapp learned as a teenager that life itself is both precious and fleeting. It was a lesson that led him to pursue a life of meaning. It prompted him to walk away from a lucrative corporate career and follow an entrepreneurial path.

I see myself as an entrepreneurial activist. We are trying to clear the pathway for all communities in the United States to gain access to resources and opportunities.
— Joe Kapp, co-founder, RuralRISE

As he worked to develop tech support systems designed to meet the unique needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, Kapp came to view entrepreneurship as the next major social justice issue.

"I see myself as an entrepreneurial activist," Kapp said during the recent ESHIP Summit where he delivered one of the session’s "firestarter" addresses. "We are trying to clear the pathway for all communities in the United States to gain access to resources and opportunities."

Kapp settled in West Virginia in a town with 250 people along the state’s eastern panhandle. He traveled to rural communities across Appalachia surrounded by breathtaking beauty, abundant natural resources, and stubborn barriers for people who wanted to start a business. He worked with Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College to develop the Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship and Economic Development to bring local, state, and national government officials, business representatives, and nonprofit leaders together to support economic and entrepreneurship development in the region.

Searching for resources on rural entrepreneurial ecosystem development, he co-founded RuralRISE, a national network of ecosystem builders working specifically to address ecosystem development in rural communities. The organization held its inaugural RuralRISE Summit last year in Davis, West Virginia, and are meeting this week in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to continue the conversation.

Kapp’s worked has gained a foothold in the mountains and a measure of national notoriety. Last year, his efforts were featured in The Washington Post Magazine.

"We have the opportunity to help people take responsibility and ownership of their own lives, and have stewardship and dominion over their own time," Kapp said. "The best possible way we can do that is through entrepreneurship, and the best possible place we can do that is in the United States."


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