WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp introduced a bill today that would use $1.2 million in federal dollars to boost startups in rural areas across the country.

The bill, a one-year federal pilot program called the Startup Entrepreneur Empowerment Delivery (SEED) Act, would grant $120,000 dollars to ten different U.S. cities with a population of 200,000 or less. City leaders would then be able to distribute that money to the startups in their community.

“This is what we’ve fashioned to respond to what we’ve heard,” Heitkamp said. “We really think that this is a spot where a few dollars can go a long way.”

The SEED Act is in part a response to a hearing Heitkamp held in Fargo last July, to discuss how the federal government could better support startup activity. There, Myriad Mobile co-founder and CEO Jake Joraanstad addressed the lack of seed capital.

“The biggest problem we faced was securing funding to allow us to grow, “Joraanstad said at the hearing.

Heidi Heitkamp

Joraanstad is not alone. Last year nearly a third of startups in the Fargo-Moorhead area identified early stage funding, known as seed funding, as the greatest challenge to growing their business, according to a survey done by CoCo coworking space in April 2015. The survey showed that local entrepreneurs most often turn to friends or family for early investments.

Despite that, North Dakota has the third-highest startup activity in the country, according to the 2015 Kauffman Index. Now, the federal government needs to create as few hoops as possible for that growth to continue, Heitkamp said.

“If you have to go and check a bunch of boxes, it’s not worth it,” Heitkamp said. “We’re trying to get rid of the bureaucracy.”

The timing is crucial given the state of North Dakota’s economy, Heitkamp said.

“If we didn’t need a reminder, we are certainly getting a reminder right now – with low commodity and high value prices – that we cannot be an economy driven by commodities,” she said. “We have to be an economy that is diversified in North Dakota.”

Mayor Tim Mahoney said he will be applying for the funding on behalf of Fargo.

But no one is getting any money unless the bill actually passes.

Heitkamp and her team are working to promote the bill by posting videos from local entrepreneurs in support of the SEED Act, including; Jake Joraanstad, CEO of Myriad Mobile, Holly Battochi, co-founder of Elinor Specialty Coatings, and Kari Block, founder of earthkind. They also published a full account on Medium.

Heitkamp was not able to give an estimation on when the bill would pass, noting that “nothing moves quickly here, even good ideas.” She did say that the $1.2 million bill is small in comparison.

Ways that supporters of the bill can keep the ball rolling are by reaching out to neighboring states, Heitkamp said, particularly to Minnesota Senators.

“Start out by reaching across the river and asking Amy (Klobuchar) and Al (Franken) to help us with the bill,” Heitkamp said. “Get everyone thinking about what small businesses need today.”


Photos courtesy of Senator Heitkamp.

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Marisa Jackels