Member Spotlight: Brandon Campbell, Center on Rural Innovation

By Kate Katz |  February 17, 2023

An entrepreneur for 20 years, Brandon Campbell knows the recipe for a thriving business. After helping small town business owners flourish in southwest Michigan, Campbell joined the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) as Regional Director for the Southeast U.S.

Brandon Campbell, Regional Director for the Southeast U.S., Center on Rural Innovation

CORI works with leaders in rural communities to build ecosystems that support tech-based economic development. As part of its work, CORI developed and identified some of the foundational elements, infrastructure, and direct drivers that communities need to build successful tech ecosystems: Access to Tech jobs, Tech Workforce Development and Support, Inclusive Tech Culture Building, Access to Capital and Scalable Tech Entrepreneurship and Incubation

Campbell leads the organization’s overall expansion strategy in the southeastern U.S., acting as liaison between rural communities and his team. We spoke with Campbell as a part of our IL Member Spotlight Series.

Identifying potential

A major part of Campbell’s role is researching and identifying communities across the rural Southeast that would benefit from the tech ecosystem. When searching for rural communities, he looks at several factors, including micropolitan status, higher education nearby, tech talent, entrepreneurship activity, diversity, and broadband capability. The number one factor, Campbell explained, is its leadership capacity — who is excited about doing this work?

Connecting with the mission

“The four words that describe my personal mission are Impact, Inclusion, Innovation, Inspiration,” said Campbell. “CORI provides rural communities with innovative opportunities for economic impact by being inclusive. The work that CORI does aligns with my own mission, which is why I chose to work here.”

Campbell’s personal mission statement also includes inclusiveness because of his former experience as an entrepreneur. He recalled that he wasn’t aware of any resources for entrepreneurs before his time as Director of Small Business and Diversity and Inclusion at the Little Rock Regional Chamber. “Of course, I learned of the resources available because I was charged with collaborating with resource partners often,” Campbell said.

Recent developments in rural innovation

Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. (RISI), a partnering organization of CORI, received USDA funds as part of a cooperative agreement under the Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge (RPIC) to promote rural placemaking in designated communities. RISI will partner with local leaders in Arkansas, Alabama, and Vermont “to lay the groundwork for equitable, sustainable, and thriving live-work-play ecosystems that can support scalable tech entrepreneurship.” 

The Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) created the Rural Aperture Project, which “uses data to shift the national conversation about racial and economic equity in rural places.” Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Thrive Rural initiative, the project provides to the public accessible data, graphics, and narratives to assist in research, investments, distribution of resources, and policy development.

Getting buy-in: Be real and authentic

A majority of Campbell’s time is spent getting buy-in. Campbell said he uses CORI mapping and data tools in his presentations and promotes CORI’s data visualizations and opportunities for rural entrepreneurs on his social platforms, such as LinkedIn. He describes his role as bringing people together on a “unifying march toward a common goal.”

Campbell shared his advice to innovators on getting buy-in: “Start with your peers and the managers who will execute. Be very intentional and tactful. Understand the politics, customs, and the people.” Campbell added that a soft skill underrated but integral to the work is empathy. “Be real and authentic,” he said.