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View from the Top

A Comparison of the Western North Carolina and Appalachian Entrepreneurial Ecosystems.

Research produced jointly between Carolina Small Business Development Fund and the Western Women's Business Center.


In the Appalachian region, poverty rates exceed the national average and many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and rural Appalachians experience subpar outcomes in the areas of health, housing, and education (New Media Advocacy Project 2024; Pollard 2022; Pollard et al. 2024; The Stay Project 2024). For many Appalachians, entrepreneurship offers a path towards financial security and vocational independence. Although more than two million Appalachians are small business owners, BIPOCs are 8 times less likely to be business owners than Appalachians overall (Appalachian Community Capital 2023).

These outcomes are largely a consequence of structural forces that impede economic development in the region. Many Appalachians, like residents of other heavily rural areas, lack sufficient access to vital resources, including institutions of higher education, specialized professional training programs, broadband internet access, transportation infrastructure, and financial capital (Appalachian Regional Commission 2024a; Dabson 2018; van Dijk 2006; Aguiar 2022; Cortelyou-Ward et al. 2020; McCall et al. 2021a; Satish 2007). Access to capital and support services for small businesses varies throughout the region.

In recent years, several studies have been conducted that assess the entrepreneurial ecosystem1 of the Appalachian region. Often, these reports conceptualize entrepreneurial ecosystems as possessing core elements, including capital, workforce, community culture, business assistance, access to markets, and infrastructure (see Pages 2018). These studies find that often in Appalachia, ecosystem stakeholders struggle to share information effectively, demand for capital exceeds the availability of funding, entrepreneurs are unable to meet the requirements for accessing capital, and financial products are misaligned with entrepreneurs’ needs (Flores et al. 2024).

However, researchers also emphasize the importance of contextual factors that distinguish local entrepreneurial ecosystems. Pages et al. (2018) write that “Appalachia is a diverse and complex region that does not easily lend itself to a single narrative… there are thriving places and there are challenged places…If we examine entrepreneurial ecosystems in Appalachia, a similarly diverse and complex picture emerges.” While Pages et al. profile Asheville’s entrepreneurial landscape and detail the ecosystem’s history and stakeholder community, they largely do not explain how these factors impact the experiences of, and outcomes for, entrepreneurs throughout Western North Carolina (WNC).

Drawing on original interviews with representatives of organizations that serve entrepreneurs in WNC, this report aims to determine how WNC’s entrepreneurial ecosystem compares to that of the Appalachian region as a whole, and what lessons can be drawn regarding either context that inform strategies for improving entrepreneurial outcomes in the other. It concludes with a set of recommendations for achieving better outcomes for small business owners and ideas for future research that can improve understanding of, and outcomes for, entrepreneurs in the area.

Download the Full Report:

View from the Top_WWBC+CSBDF-Research-Report-2024
Download PDF • 2.47MB

Suggested Citation

Safer, Adam, Noor Kazi, James R. Onorevole, April Peck and John Carter Roberson. 2024. “View from the Top: A Comparison of the Western North Carolina and Appalachian Entrepreneurial Ecosystems.” Carolina Small Business Development Fund.

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