University of Colorado Boulder, Leeds School of Business
The Demystifying Entrepreneurship: Rural Colorado workshop series brings Leeds business professors into five regions of rural Colorado to teach innovation and entrepreneurship to current and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Call to Action:
According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, 44 of Colorado’s 64 counties generate only 5 percent of the state’s GDP. These mostly rural economies are largely dependent on agriculture and oil and gas industries, both of which have seen significant reduction in labor force over the past decade. As a result, we can observe trends of stagnant or even reduced GDP in many counties across the state of Colorado.
Our Rural Colorado Workshop Series aims to spur economic activity and positively increase GDP and job creation in rural communities by bringing Leeds School of Business faculty instruction to current and potential business owners. Through five-year commitments to each region we serve, we bring our two-day workshop once per year to teach topics like customer discovery, marketing, and finance to roughly 50 participants.
As an example, prior to partnering with Chaffee County in 2015, the GDP had been experiencing more than five years of decline. After three years of commitment, we have seen an uptick in economic activity reflected in the county’s GDP, and a tangible number of jobs created from companies that participated in our workshops. We now operate this workshop in five different regions across the state of Colorado, and have more demand than we have the capacity to serve annually.
The Rural Colorado Workshop Series is an interactive certificate course for anyone interested in launching their own business or improving an existing business, as well as local government officials seeking to help innovate within their organizations. It provides a fundamental framework and tool set that helps entrepreneurs develop sought-after products and services, avoid pitfalls, and succeed at entrepreneurship.
These workshops are taught by experts from the Leeds School of Business at University of Colorado—Boulder (CU). The goal of these workshops is to increase the economic state of rural Colorado through the teaching of effective business practices. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, this series is meant to help elevate the conversation around entrepreneurship and innovation in the community and inspire members to think and act like entrepreneurs, rather than being resistant to change and staying stagnant.
In every region we bring this program to, we make a firm five-year regional commitment to community leadership. Our workshops are based on an evolving structure, wherein we teach our introductory workshop, Demystifying Entrepreneurship, for years one to two, Startup 2 ScaleUp in years three to four, and our capstone course of Shoring Up in the final year of our engagement. The purpose of this tiered structure is to provide support to businesses at all stages of operation, from ideation to scale.
Our assessment plans include both short- and long-term components. Short-term assessment is based on exit surveying conducted the day of the class. Audience members are asked to assess items such us, but not limited to, instructor quality, content quality and applicability, course value, parts of the session that went well and parts that did not, general satisfaction, and an opportunity to leave additional remarks.
These exit surveys are studied and directly affect the material taught in future workshops. For example, in the past we conducted a workshop where the finance section was less than an hour and did not contain enough time for Q&A specific to each individual’s business or venture idea, a component of the other sections. Based on survey responses, we have since adjusted this part of the day’s workshop to include more time for specific questions on business finance.
Our long-term plans involve the examination of GDP and creation of jobs. We will monitor the GDP of each region and community we operate in, studying whether or not there is a slowed decline or uptick in economic activity. In addition, with the assistance of our community partners, we will examine the businesses that participate in our workshops to determine whether they have added jobs to their community. While these are strictly corollary, not causal, measurements, they allow CU Boulder to position itself as a source of reliable data on economic activity in rural Colorado.