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The Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative (REI) is a joint program of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the Global Social Enterprise Initiative and Startup Hoyas at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business that has created a website to provide resources for entrepreneurs in rural communities. This website, www.strongruralamerica.com, features a blog, webinars, and a hub full of resources to help rural entrepreneurs with new businesses. You can find some of the Center's resources for creating entrepreneurial communities on the site by clicking on the Rural Entrepreneurship Hub.

2014 Challenge Winners

March 4, 2015

Rural Entrepreneurship Takes Center Stage

By Jessica Wharton

The American Farm Bureau Federation shined the spotlight on rural entrepreneurship in 2014 with the launch of the first-ever Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge, together with Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business Global Social Enterprise Initiative. After an exciting year of competition, the final four contestants reflected on the challenge, the final round of judging in San Diego, and most importantly, how their businesses have developed over the past year.

The final four contestants were ScoutPro, Inc. (Rural Entrepreneur of the Year), Pasturebird, LLC (People’s Choice Winner), Pulaski Grow and Golden Bridges, Inc.

Thinking back on the challenge, Stuart McCulloh of ScoutPro, Inc. said, “One thing I continue to notice and understand about the agriculture industry is that so much of what connects us all are the relationships we build. … This industry is large, but it’s a close-knit group of hard workers with similar interests and experiences.”

There was no doubt that all the contestants shared a passion for agriculture, and they found the opportunity to network invaluable as they shared a variety of business plans and experiences.

“While in San Diego, we had the opportunity to learn more about entrepreneurship and pitching our product for the contest judges, compare notes and experiences with our fellow contestants, and participate in a town hall with AFBF President Bob Stallman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack,” wrote Susan Scholz of Golden Bridges, Inc.

Pasturebird, LLC was able to connect with a couple from Alabama who had been farming poultry for nearly 30 years and wanted to host the first test run of a Pasturebird product for the East Coast market. Paul Greive said, “[Pasturebird] will definitely be making a trip there soon!”

Post-challenge, Lee Spiegel of Pulaski Grow is utilizing networking opportunities in the community to determine what to produce in order to meet the needs of restaurants and businesses seeking fresh, local produce.

In addition to networking, the final four constants all received cash prizes to help their businesses grow. When asked what they were putting the money towards, all were excited to report business plan advancements, prototypes and new machinery.

Greive of Pasturebird, LLC said, “These funds are already going into use on our prototype projects, a 40-acre land lease and further development of the company.”

Pulaski Grow has used the money to complete their office and training spaces as well as to create 240 Zipgrow vertical farming towers to grow lettuce, greens and herbs, while utilizing floating beds to grow tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.

Scholz of Golden Bridges, Inc. said that using “our personal vehicles for the past two years has taken its toll, so with our winnings we are purchasing a company vehicle that will stand up to country roads and will be wrapped with our logo and contact information.”

Lee Spiegel of Pulaski Grow summed up the experience, and what the challenge has meant to the team saying, “In looking back at how far Pulaski Grow has come as a business since writing the first pitch for the challenge, I am truly blown away… In writing and sharing our dream, our passion and belief in our mission was brought to new levels … and we are looking forward to the future.”

The final four constants all developed their businesses over the last year while many watched and cheered them along the way. Over the next few months, FBNews will be covering the final four’s individual responses to the challenge, their advice to next year’s contestants, and more. To find more information on rural development, visit the American Farm Bureau Federation website.

Jessica Wharton is a communications assistant at the American Farm Bureau Federation.