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Rural entrepreneurs turn stereotypes on their head

Eight people stand for a group photo in Asheville, North Carolina, at a Mountain BizWorks event.
Mountain BizWorks was founded by entrepreneurs in Asheville, North Carolina, to build a vibrant entrepreneurial community by providing small businesses access to capital and resources. Tina Metzer stresses how opportunities to receive startup sponsorship can be profoundly impactful for underserved entrepreneurs, especially founders of color.

Tina Metzer writes how rural entrepreneurship stands in direct opposition to antiquated tropes, building vibrant, inclusive economies in their communities.


The sociopolitical landscape of rural America is rapidly shifting, and these changing dynamics are well-represented by entrepreneurs. Rural entrepreneurs defy outdated stereotypes about who an entrepreneur is and demonstrate growth in the job sectors of modern rural America.

Entrepreneurs stabilize local economies through impactful programming, providing goods and services, attracting tourism, and more. As a result, they contribute to a unique landscape of local economies. Nevertheless, rural entrepreneurs work to disprove assumptions often held by their metropolitan counterparts about their communities.

Foremost, rural entrepreneurs face the trope of who an entrepreneur is – those characteristics of being a young, white, urban, and wealthy male. Modern entrepreneurs continue to push back against these features, and rural entrepreneurs especially so. Additionally, modern entrepreneurs stand up to stereotypes about the type of work performed in rural communities – the assumption that everyone in rural America farms for a living.

Stereotype: Entrepreneurs are young, white, urban, and wealthy

The 2020 U.S. Census confirmed that rural communities have seen increased diversity in their racial make-up. Twenty-two percent of rural residents are people of color, and those numbers continue to increase. Rural communities are not a monolith; entrepreneurs in these areas reflect their peers and strengthen their rural communities.

Rural communities are not a monolith.

Some entrepreneurs work to unify their communities by supporting other small business founders, reducing money as a barrier of entry to entrepreneurship. Mountain BizWorks, for example, was founded by entrepreneurs in Asheville, North Carolina, to build a vibrant entrepreneurial community by providing small businesses access to capital and resources. Opportunities to receive startup sponsorship can be profoundly impactful for underserved entrepreneurs especially founders of color. Mountain BizWork contributes to an entrepreneurial ecosystem on which other business people can build.

One business that has benefitted from the support of Mountain BizWorks is Grind Asheville (Grind AVL), founded by two Black entrepreneurs in North Carolina, J. Hackett and Bruce Walker. Grind AVL is a safe and supportive environment for entrepreneurs of color; a coffee shop designed to be a community space for social interaction, access to broadband, and event hosting. As a result of Grind AVL’s success, they were recently awarded a $50,000 grant from the North Carolina Black Entrepreneurship Council. The award was used to grow Asheville’s Black Wall Street which helps business owners market products at Grind AVL and strengthen the economy in which Black businesses are networking.

Standing in direct opposition to the trope of “startup bro” is the fact that Black women make up the fastest-growing demographic of entrepreneurs. One such entrepreneur is Sheila Ellis-Glasper, founder and marketing strategist of SEG Media Collective. Located in her home state of Kansas, Ellis-Glasper has a rich background in entrepreneurship and business development through marketing. As a demonstration to her advocacy for underrepresented businesses and economic justice, she founded the Black Entrepreneurs of the Flint Hills, a nonprofit that empowers, equips, and connects Black-owned businesses in the Flint Hills region of Kansas. Ellis-Glasper’s contribution to the rural entrepreneurial ecosystem of her region was recognized in 2021 with the Minority Business Advocate of the Year award from the State of Kansas Department of Commerce.

Stereotype: Everyone in rural America is a farmer

While agriculture was once the backbone of rural American communities, the work has been consolidated into fewer hands. Not only do fewer farmers own the property being farmed but farm technology has improved crop production and requires fewer farmhands to work the land.

As the farming industry has reduced its hold over rural economies, other job sectors are seeing increased numbers: manufacturing, retail services, and education. The recent increase in rural entrepreneurship reflects this trend with many small business owners founding companies focused on hospitality, tourism, and goods and services.

Consider the business Earth & Sky Floral Designs, the only full-service, full-time florist between Albuquerque and Grants, New Mexico. The store is a 100% Native American- and woman-owned small business. Founded and operated by Shayai Lucero (Acoma Pueblo/Laguna Pueblo), Earth & Sky Floral Designs has a very broad service area and includes its own delivery services. Lucero is the floral designer as well as the business owner. She incorporates her Native American Pueblo culture and upbringing into the floral designs, which have received recognition within the international floral industry. Lucero says she works hard to Indigenize and educate the floral industry through the creation of her pieces.

Another inspiring example is Inoj Skin Care (pronounced “E-nah-J”) based in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and run by Joni Alexander. Alexander is a Black businesswoman who was born and raised in Pine Bluff but took some time to travel outside of the U.S. and brought that inspiration home to Arkansas. Her skincare business was self-created and perfected over years of development, inspired by her time spent in South Korea (home of K-Beauty). Inoj Skin Care provides products that are free of dyes, fragrances, parabens, and sulfates. As is common for rural residents, Alexander occupies many economic spheres in her rural hometown. Not only is she a small business founder and owner, but Alexander is a banker and an elected official.

The 2022 RuralRISE Summit

The 2022 RuralRISE Summit will be held in Emporia, Kansas, Sept. 28-30. This annual event convenes ecosystem builders, nonprofits, educational institutions, government entities, entrepreneurs, and others interested in all things rural. This year’s Summit will focus on the role of entrepreneurship in revitalizing rural towns as well as improving access to rural broadband.

Rural entrepreneurship on the RISE

Entrepreneurs in rural America diversify our assumptions associated with who an entrepreneur is and what kinds of work and products can be found in rural America. They stand in opposition to assumptions that rural America is dominated by the farming industry, and that in order to be a successful business founder someone must be young, white, and wealthy.

Battling these stereotypes doubles the challenges rural entrepreneurs face, which is why entrepreneurial ecosystems play an important role in the growth of rural startups. Through their persistence, modern rural entrepreneurs subvert these stereotypes and contribute to the diversity of rural America.

Tina Metzer is an entrepreneur and champion for the development of rural opportunities across the country. Metzer’s primary focus at National Center for Resource Development, which she co-founded, is on rural – including identification and development of rural opportunities, rural entrepreneurship, and focusing on the importance of closing the digital divide for rural communities. She is also the co-founder of RuralRISE and RuralRISE Tech.

RuralRISE is a community of organizations that aims to increase opportunities, increase accessibility, and spotlight innovation, entrepreneurial, and startup activities that work in rural settings across the United States.

This piece is part of the Foundation’s “Uncommon Voices” series, which features viewpoints from those working hard on issues that reduce racial inequity and support economic stability, mobility, and prosperity.