Black River Innovation Campus Awarded $724,000 Competitive Federal Innovation Grant to Help Build a Digital Economy Ecosystem in Springfield, VT

The Black River Innovation Campus (BRIC) and Senator Patrick Leahy announced today that BRIC has received $724,000 in federal grant funds to support the continued creation of a digital economy ecosystem in Springfield, VT. The award was first announced by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) as part of its most recent Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) i6 Challenge competitive grant program. The BRIC award is one of only 40 awards in the country this year, and the first award in the history of the program with a rural digital economy focus.

The RIS i6 Challenge is a leading national initiative administered by the EDA’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The i6 Challenge is designed to support the creation of centers for innovation and entrepreneurship that increase the rate at which innovations, ideas, intellectual property, and research are translated into products, services, viable companies, and jobs. The EDA’s full RIS i6 announcement is available here.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship are hallmarks of successful economies in the 21st Century and initiatives like BRIC are essential to making this economy accessible to Vermonters in all areas of the state.  Forming strategic partnerships is at the heart of economic development and the team that has come together in Springfield is formidable,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Bernard Sanders and Congressman Peter Welch in a joint statement.  “We are proud to have helped ensure a portion of this funding would be invested in rural communities like Springfield and look forward to seeing the funding in action as local residents learn, work, and start new businesses right from their hometown.”  As Vice-Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy included language in the annual spending bill that funds the United States Commerce Department directing EDA to prioritize rural communities and those states yet to receive an award, specifically with Vermont and communities like Springfield in mind.  

Springfield once had the highest income per capita in Vermont and was a nationwide leader in precision manufacturing, but in recent decades has been subject to common challenges in post-manufacturing rural areas, like higher unemployment rates and a greater proportion of people on public assistance.

The Black River Innovation Campus - a collaboration between two local organizations, the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) and the Springfield Regional Development Corporation (SRDC) - was created to reimagine rural economic development strategies and leverage Springfield’s assets to create new opportunities for digital economy employment and entrepreneurship. And thanks to its affordable, widespread 10 gigabit internet access, inexpensive local real estate, and the availability of skilled talent, Springfield is primed for successful revival as a leader in the digital economy.

“Springfield has so many good things going for it: 10 gigabit fiber internet, talented, hard-working people, and an exceptional quality of life,” said Bob Flint, Executive Director of the Springfield Regional Development Corporation. “SRDC is proud to be part of the strategy that will revive Springfield’s economy – an effort that is now even more powerful thanks to the resources secured today through the EDA.”

“This RIS i6 grant award is an incredible sign of confidence in the innovation hub model we have created as we work to build new economic opportunities in rural America, starting right here in Springfield,” said Matt Dunne, CORI Founder and Executive Director. “With investments from the EDA and other funders, we are able to continue the momentum at BRIC and create the kinds of digital economy training, job, and entrepreneurship opportunities that have the power to transform the community.”

“There is so much untapped potential for innovation in our rural communities across the country,” said Craig Buerstatte, Acting Director of the Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the U.S. Department of Commerce, EDA. “We are pleased to support the Black River Innovation Campus through this RIS i6 grant because it exemplifies the kind of innovative approach that will play a critical role in revitalizing small towns everywhere.”

In September, CORI, SRDC and their partners announced that they had raised $1 million to implement an innovation hub model in Springfield focused on digital jobs and entrepreneurship. When fully operational, BRIC will bring together computer science education and a residential entrepreneurship program to support technology startups in the region. In addition to the RIS i6 funding announced today, BRIC has received support from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman of Greylock Partners, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Siegel Family Endowment, and the Vermont Community Foundation, as well as from members of Vermont’s innovation community.

For more information, contact Bob Flint at 802-885-3061, bobf@springfielddevelopment.org.