A part-time physical therapist, a plant-based cheese company and an outdoor education program for children may not have much in common on the surface — but all three businesses have benefited from a growing ecosystem of entrepreneurship in rural New Hampshire.
The Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship has supported entrepreneurs like these in their efforts to build more vibrant communities throughout New Hampshire’s Monadnock region and beyond. Located in Keene (pop: 23,000), the Hannah Grimes Center is a place where entrepreneurs from surrounding rural communities can come together for education, networking and support. It is home to the Hannah Grimes Marketplace, a retail shop for local goods, as well as a business incubator, coaching programs, educational workshops and more. In conjunction with the local newspaper, The Keene Sentinel, the Hannah Grimes Center also hosts the annual Radically Rural Summit, an event that draws hundreds of business leaders from across the continent for rural inspiration, strategy and connection.
“One person couldn’t do it on their own, but someone plants the seed, someone waters it, and we all help it grow,” said Radically Rural Director Julianna Dodson on the Rural Business podcast, describing the impact of the Hannah Grimes Center’s collaborative programs.
Finding Opportunity in Rural Life
Dodson lives with her husband and three children in Spofford, New Hampshire, a small unincorporated rural community that sits between Keene and Brattleboro, Vermont. The young family was first drawn to the area by her husband’s passion for timber framing, but stayed for the close-knit, neighborly community. “We tend to form really strong relationships and strong communities because we have to work together. We don’t have that natural density that occurs,” Dodson said on the podcast. The popular hiking trails on Mount Monadnock, the crystal waters of Spofford Lake and the nearby coastline also don’t hurt. “For a lot of us, [rural life] is what we’ve chosen. It’s the lifestyle we want; it’s intentional,” she added. “But there are definitely struggles.”
Dodson named transportation, access to medical care, reliable internet, and childcare as a few of the complex challenges facing rural communities like hers. For example, her family spent almost half of their income on childcare in 2020, as programs grappled with staffing shortages exacerbated by the pandemic. In her role as director of Radically Rural, Dodson is facilitating an upcoming virtual roundtable with a rural organization in Minnesota to discuss creative solutions to the childcare crisis, in the hopes it will spark ideas in her community. “It’s just not sustainable for us, or anyone,” Dodson said.
The Magic of Collaboration
Solving these issues for her community is what drew Dodson to the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship. A public accountant and financial consultant by trade, Dodson often found herself referring local entrepreneurs to Hannah Grimes for help with everything from setting up a bookkeeping system to transitioning their business after retirement. She joined Radically Rural full-time in 2021 to help accelerate solutions for rural communities and promote resources for local entrepreneurs. Once a month, Dodson facilitates virtual events on key issues, like the childcare roundtable. These programs are key to maintaining a dynamic business ecosystem, particularly when business owners are spread out over rural geographies, she said.
However, the centerpiece of Dodson’s work is the Radically Rural Summit, which is built around seven program tracks: arts and culture, clean energy, community journalism, entrepreneurship, healthcare, main street, and land and community. It serves as an opportunity to learn about innovative ideas working in rural communities across the country, meet new people and enjoy small-town New England. Last year the event drew hundreds of attendees, from 43 states, the District of Columbia, and even Canada.
“We have found that bringing people together, creating an environment that’s ripe for ideas and for collaboration, the magic just happens,” Dodson said.
This year the Radically Rural Summit will be held in Keene on September 21-22. Attendees may also participate virtually. Learn more and register here, or visit radicallyrural.org or hannahgrimes.com for more information. Dodson welcomes ideas for collaboration and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to the full interview here and connect with listeners of the Rural Business Show on Twitter and Facebook.