Brent Comstock started his own tech services company at age 12. By the time he left for college, BCom Solutions had over 500 clients nationwide.
Today Comstock splits his time between BCom in Auburn, Nebraska, and the University of North Carolina where he is the first Student Entrepreneur in Residence at an incubator in Chapel Hill.
“It’s interesting going between North Carolina area and the Midwest,” Comstock said. “They are similar in that they are two areas that have previously been overlooked. People are starting to be interested in how both areas are blossoming.”
Although Comstock loves the startup scene in Chapel Hill, he’s equally excited about his hometown of Auburn, a rural community (Population: 3,385) about 70 miles southeast of Lincoln and 131 miles north of Kansas City.
“Auburn is an example of a small town that presents people with large opportunities,” Comstock said. “If you go out of your way to find those opportunities, the community will embrace that.”
Comstock is now working with community leaders, state leaders and other rural entrepreneurs to test out a rural innovation program in Auburn that can eventually be replicated anywhere.
“My conversation with the [Nebraska] governor reinforced for me that even if you’re from a small town you can have an impact,” said Comstock.
Bringing startup culture to small town life
The centerpiece of Comstock’s vision is the Rural Innovation Catalyst Program.
In partnership with Peru State College (about 10 minutes from Auburn), the program will include a high school accelerator program that provides coaching so high school students can start their own business inside a “soft failure” environment.
The Catalyst will also include college support and a post-secondary fellowship for rural community development.
In all, the program will offer resources for rural enterpreneurs from their junior year of high school to post-college.
“It’s a heck of a lot easier to keep young people in rural communities than to try to convince them to come back,” said Comstock.
Comstock plans to build a resource network that brings the dynamism of startup communities like Lincoln to rural towns across the region.
“There’s a lot of talk and less action in rural communities,” said Comstock. “I’d like to see more small business owners get involved.”
Two words: Road Trip
Last November Comstock presented his idea in a TEDxLincoln talk. This year he’s taking his ideas on the road.
Next week he will be in Spencer, Iowa, by the invitation of the city’s leadership, to discuss how to promote innovation there.
He plans to spend most of the summer visiting rural communities across Nebraska, including Ord, Hastings, Minden, Crete and Valentine, to discuss innovation.
On a global level, Brent will spend two months this summer in Venice, Italy, at the H-Farm Ventures accelerator as he continues to discuss innovation in rural and diverse communities.
He hopes to share his experience as a template and to learn what’s working in other places.
“As I organized this tour I kept thinking, ‘There have got to be some communities that are doing things right,’” said Comstock.
“Time and time again people have said, ‘You’ve got to check out Ord. You’ve got to check out Minden.’ I’m looking for people who are already doing unique things in rural communities and are already successful.”