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Rural Innovation Initiative 2020

Building an Innovation Hub

Through a national competitive application process, Central Maine Growth Council (CMGC) has been selected as one of ten communities – out of 110 applications across 37 states – by the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) to receive intensive technical assistance to execute an “innovation hub strategy.” This strategy is an economic development model that works to educate and train local residents in digital skills, employ them in new economy jobs, and empower them to launch startups that will drive their community’s digital economy. Through the Rural Innovation Initiative (RII), CMGC will receive a combination of in-person site visits and virtual support to develop programming and strategies which are geared towards preparing project(s) to apply for the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) i6 program and similar opportunities.

RII is a joint initiative between CORI and Rural Innovation Strategies Inc. (RISI), made possible through a cooperative agreement between RISI and the U.S. EDA.

Program Overview

Figure 1

In order to build sustainable digital economy ecosystems, RII focuses on tech-enabled, innovation-based jobs and scalable entrepreneurship while emphasizing intentional development of assets across multiple domains (see Figure 1). RII employs the technical assistance of in-house staff within community development, capacity building, strategic partnerships, innovation & entrepreneurship, and communications & grant writing to guide communities along the process of creating a digital economy ecosystem strategy which will then be submitted to the U.S. EDA through an i6 grant funding application.

Communities focused on a 2020 i6 application will follow an intense sprint in Q1 2020, including:

  • - Site visit(s) from RII staff (January 22-23 for CMGC)
  • - Community planning workshop(s)/meetings with strategic partners
  • - i6 grant application submission (approx. April 2020)

What is a "digital economy job"?

Digital economy jobs are classified as innovation-based or tech-enabled occupations, in fields that drive automation and change. These jobs usually yield higher wages, have good potential for advancement, and may be done remotely in any place that has reliable high-speed internet. To succeed in these jobs, workers need to have strong digital skills, as well as opportunities for continuous learning as technologies shift. In strong digital economies, workers drive innovation and become entrepreneurs, creating local wealth and future-proof jobs (CORI, 2019).

Examples of digital economy jobs include:

  • - Software engineering
  • - Web development
  • - Data science
  • - Growth-oriented, internet-enabled businesses

What is the i6 Challenge Grant?

While the next Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) will not be released until February 2020, the U.S. EDA has released a helpful webinar detailing the grant program. The i6 Challenge Grant funds a range of programs and services that support innovation-based, high-growth entrepreneurship and startup acceleration through services such as technical assistance, market evaluation, business planning, mentorship, and access to early-stage capital. Appropriate expenses include operational and programmatic costs to support scalable businesses, new product innovation and/or adoption of new technology, improved commercialization of research, and enhanced innovation capacity and resiliency for region.

Historically, grantees may include non-profits, colleges & universities, economic development organizations, municipalities, and public-private partnerships, but not for-profit businesses. Applicants must raise a 1:1 match, and may apply for as much as $750,000 in grant funding.

Project Timeline

  • - December 2019: Notice of selection to the Rural Innovation Initiative; preparation for site visits
  • - January 2020: RII team site visit to CMGC (1/22-1/23); community gathering workshop (1/22)
  • - February 2020: U.S. EDA i6 Challenge Grant NOFO (Notice of Funding Opportunity) released; complete innovation hub strategy concept proposal for grant application
  • - March 2020: Submit grant slide deck for i6 Challenge Grant (Phase 1)
  • - April-May 2020: Write grant application for i6 Challenge Grant (Phase 2)
  • - June 2020: Submit grant application submission
  • - August-September 2020: Receive notice re: grant application submission

Local & Regional Community Input

If you are interested in CMGC's involvement with the Rural Innovation Initiative and would like to provide input on our innovation hub strategy, we would be happy to hear from you. Please contact CMGC at (207) 680-7300 or director@centralmaine.org. Thank you!

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