Aberdeen receives build to scale funding graphic with image of downtown

ABERDEEN, S.D. Northern State University, in a strategic partnership with the Aberdeen Development Corporation (ADC), has secured a Venture Challenge grant via the U.S. Economic Development Administration Build to Scale (B2S) program.


Northern and the ADC worked with the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) to apply for this grant as part of CORI’s 2022 Rural Innovation Initiative, a technical assistance program empowering rural communities to create inclusive digital economies that support scalable entrepreneurship and tech job creation.


The initiative was launched in 2018 by CORI and its mission-aligned collaborating organization, Rural Innovations Strategies Inc. (RISI). To date, this program has graduated 29 communities and helped rural organizations secure more than $29.9 million to develop strategies and build out programs that can accelerate their local digital economic development efforts. Aberdeen’s participation in RII was made possible by support from Land O’Lakes through its American Connection Project.


“The work that goes into the Rural Innovation Initiative process requires intense focus, unwavering optimism and a clear vision for the future — which is why it’s been so exciting to watch these communities receive Build to Scale funding,” said Matt Dunne, founder and executive director of CORI. “This is the fourth year we’ve run this program, and each year we grow more inspired by the commitment these rural leaders have to transform their local economies with new tech pathways that serve their community. We look forward to seeing what is next for them as our network continues to grow.”


Michael Bockorny, CEO of the ADC, said, “For many years the ADC has been searching for the best path forward related to the development and establishment of technology-related jobs in our community and region. CORI showed us the way and helped us develop a path to make the vision a reality. They allowed the ADC to select the right strategic partner and the natural fit was NSU, our regional comprehensive university. President Neal Schnoor’s dedication of resources to this project is most appreciated, along with Provost Mike Wanous. I cannot thank and say enough about the NSU team who dedicated countless hours to getting this project to this point: Associate Provost Dr. Erin Fouberg, Dr. Hannah Walters and Mr. Blake Day. Now with the successful receipt of the grant, we are prepared to make a difference for Aberdeen and all of northeast South Dakota for years to come.”


“This investment is exactly what we were hoping for in communities like Aberdeen when we launched our American Connection Communities pillar of the American Connection Project,” said Tina May, vice president of rural services for Land O’Lakes, Inc. “We know how critical the need for broadband access is and how mentorship and training programs have measurable, positive impacts for skill-building and job growth in local communities. Aberdeen is already demonstrating for leaders and policymakers how new, effective and transformational models for rural development can be implemented and scaled at the state and national level. This investment supports our efforts to promote connectivity and digital skills and prepare communities like Aberdeen for the future.”


With the $1,496,949 provided by the Venture Challenge grant and matching funds, Aberdeen plans to launch the Northern Innovation and Startup Center to infuse technology startup expertise into existing entrepreneurship resources, build a local culture of tech entrepreneurship and create cohesive pathways, and offer ideation and incubator programming for the community.


The Startup Center, which will open in November 2022, will be housed at Northern and open to the entire community. It will first be located in Beulah Williams Library, but its home will eventually be in the new building replacing Lincoln Hall.


Northern and the ADC are joined by the NSU Foundation in providing funding for the community’s match portion of the grant. Other local partners supporting this application include Dacotah Bank, the city of Aberdeen, and Brown County Commission.


“The funding provided by the EDA grant and community supporters serves as a vital catalyst to build a thriving tech ecosystem in the Aberdeen area,” Schnoor said. “Together, Northern and the ADC will infuse technology startup expertise into existing entrepreneurship resources and build a tech startup culture on campus and in Aberdeen that fosters innovation where entrepreneurs are supported, embraced and applauded. Our goal is to make Aberdeen a place where everyone has opportunities to impact growth.”


Schnoor adds, “Aberdeen is a community with a history of innovation, teeming abundant social capital, institutional and community support, and a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit.”


The 2022 Build to Scale program awarded 51 grants to applicants from 31 states. The grants represent a combined $47 million in federal investment. Aberdeen was one of just eight rural applicants to receive the award this year.


Aberdeen is also a member of CORI’s Rural Innovation Network, a growing collective of rural communities in 24 states across the country that are working to train local residents in digital skills, employ them in new economy jobs, and empower them to launch the startups that will drive their future economies.


About Northern State University

Northern State University is a student-centered institution that provides an outstanding educational experience, preparing students through the liberal arts and professional education for their future endeavors. A regional university, Northern offers rigorous academics; diverse civic, social and cultural opportunities; and a commitment to building an inclusive environment for all points of view. Northern also offers a broad-based athletics program, sponsoring 15 NCAA Division II intercollegiate varsity sports that compete in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (NSIC). The university strives to enrich the community through partnerships such as its Educational Impact Campaign, which opened a new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired; new athletic and recreation fields; and an on-campus regional sports complex. With the $55 million campaign, NSU has been the recipient of more than $150 million in privately funded building projects and scholarships within a decade. To learn more, visit NSU Admissions.


About the Aberdeen Development Corporation

The Aberdeen Development Corporation (ADC) is a private nonprofit corporation with the mission to advance Aberdeen and the northeast South Dakota region for all. Business retention, expansion and job growth are critical for creating a vibrant and thriving community. We leverage resources to make Aberdeen the South Dakota choice for people and businesses. Our primary areas of focus are business development, business expansion and business retention.


About the Center on Rural Innovation

The Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) is a national nonprofit committed to advancing economic prosperity in rural America through the creation of inclusive digital economy ecosystems that support scalable entrepreneurship and tech job creation. Established in 2017, CORI is at the heart of a dynamic social enterprise focused on closing the rural opportunity gap. To maximize all possible resources to address this critical problem, the organization partners with a taxable nonprofit, Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. (RISI), and a seed fund, CORI Innovation Fund (CIF), focused on early-stage technology companies located in rural areas.