Matt Dunne / Center on Rural Innovation

Start Here Podcast | Episode #91 | 06/13/24

Matt Dunne, the king of rural innovation, joins the podcast to inspire us all. His deep roots in Vermont are intertwined with the community that shaped him. From being elected to the legislature at 22, to convincing Google to open an office in White River Junction, to founding the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI), Matt’s ability to build community is remarkable. This podcast is essentially a crash course on how to create a thriving community anywhere. We’re big fans, can you tell?

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Matt Dunne  00:00

The biggest challenge that we’ve run into was not getting in on a model for an accelerator off the ground or helping people figure out how to do a cowork space. It’s the narrative shift. There was this belief that you had to have at least 500,000 people around you to have enough of the talent to be able to start and grow a company that would have a big exit. That’s just not true.


Sam RG  00:26

From Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, it’s Start Here, a podcast sharing the stories of active, aspiring, and accidental entrepreneurs. Today, we sit down with Matt Dunne, founder and executive director of the Center on Rural Innovation, a national organization working to reverse the nation’s rural opportunity gap. Welcome, this is Sam Roach-Gerber


David Bradbury  00:45

And David Bradbury


Sam RG  00:46

Recording from the Black River Innovation Campus in Springfield, Vermont. Hi, Matt.


Matt Dunne  00:51

Hey, guys.


Sam RG  00:53

Thanks for having us in your neck of the woods here.


David Bradbury  00:55

Thanks for having us down Matt this is exciting.


Matt Dunne  00:57

Oh, great to have you in Windsor County.


Sam RG  00:59

I mean,


David Bradbury  00:59

I could find Windsor County on a map. I lived in Windsor County.


Matt Dunne  01:02

I know. I know you did.


Sam RG  01:04

The studio here at brick is so much better than our setup. It’s like deafeningly silent in here.  It’s


David Bradbury  01:12

It’s a little uncomfortable for us. And this is probably our 90th 95th or so podcasts. I’m gonna try to hold together. So very impressive. What’s going on here at brick?


Matt Dunne  01:21

No, it’s a beautiful space. It was donated by Bob rivers, who was a very successful DJ in the Seattle area and came back and really loved what was going on at the Black River Innovation Campus. And he said you need a state of the art podcast studio. And so he through his generosity, we were able to have that and it’s available to the public, which has been a really great asset.


Sam RG  01:44

It’s, It’s so awesome. Podcasting is such a great way for people to be able to tell stories in rural, everywhere, right? I mean, Rutlin has an amazing podcast studio. You know, we really got to step our game up. But it’s it’s just such a great tool.


Matt Dunne  01:58



David Bradbury  01:59

I feel like an impostor. All right.


Sam RG  02:03

So tell us about young Matt, Where’d you grow up? What were you like?


Matt Dunne  02:09

So Young Matt grew up in Hartland, Vermont. I think my entrepreneurial roots probably showed up pretty early as I was trying various things. Started a children’s theatre in Hartland elementary school because there wasn’t one and you know, having the benefit of no fear we just launched right into it. A group of us put together a play and then we did another one and it continued on and in fact, there continues to be a theater program there. I grew up there and Heartland was an interesting community because it was machine, tool, and dairy until it wasn’t. I remember quite vividly when Ken Blanchard downsized and when the machine shops here in Springfield closed down for good. And that was right around when I was a senior in high school and that,


Sam RG  03:05



Matt Dunne  03:05

sticks with you. We also saw, you know, the number of dairy farms in Hartland going from 11 to 3 in a very short period of time. And that was in a community that had been just incredibly loving to my family, my father passed away when I was 13. And, and you know, the meaning of community when something like that happens and you know, in a place like Hartland. I had a ride to school and to lessons and practices and things like that no one thought anything about it, I didn’t even know who was going to pick me up any given day, they just show up. I was like, Oh, I guess I’m going with the Williams’s today. But it was that combination of things that is what set me on my weird career trajectory, which was focused on trying to bring back opportunity and jobs in progressive economic development in communities like Hartland and Springfield. And Dave, as you know, I mean, that’s what I focused on my whole time in the in the legislature or, you know, actually putting my, rolling up my sleeves at Logic Associates


David Bradbury  04:14

You are one of my favorite geeks to walk and nerd out on this stuff with right? I always learned so much.


Matt Dunne  04:19



Sam RG  04:20

Well, now I have to ask, because it seems like you two have known each other for quite some time. Do you recall when the David Bradbury, Matt Dunne path crossed for the first time?  It


Matt Dunne  04:32

It was probably in the state house. I think you were working for Howard?


David Bradbury  04:35

Or Rosalita’s?


Matt Dunne  04:35

Yeah. Rosalita. That’s possible too.


David Bradbury  04:37

Frank McDougal introducing us.


Matt Dunne  04:39

That’s possible. Yeah. No, we had we had Frank McDougal as a mentor in common, which, frankly, is just one of those ubiquitous people who would would find young folks who are passionate about certain things and I never, I never worked for him formally, but he was so great as a young legislator eho was interested in this stuff. Just as much as he would you know, you know, say, hey, we’ve got this great project. Let’s go. He would also tell me, Hey, Matt, careful about that thing. It’s sounds good, but it may not go the way that folks want to. And it was generosity like that.


David Bradbury  05:18

I was saying, coming down today, he was such a mentor of mine. And I went to him when I was like, hey, I’m thinking to come back to Vermont, I want to be a CFO of a ski area, because I can’t think of a more ridiculously challenging job. He’s like, That’s really cute. Dave, the governor just died.  Howard Dean asked me to stay on in commerce, can you come work for me as sort of a internal consultant of sorts to try to, you know, contemporize, some of the agency stuff and did that for a bunch of years. And just again, you learn so much, being in the room, listening, asking questions that you, you know, sometimes maybe are silly, but you get a real honest answer. So that’s how we met Sam and


Sam RG  05:59

A couple of kids.


David Bradbury  06:01

Couple of kids.


Matt Dunne  06:02

But also, like, economic development policy wonks. And that’s a small universe of people, right? There aren’t like we weren’t totally into. And he was coming up with these really interesting ways to redo how we approach economic development in Vermont. And I was trying to figure out on the legislative side, working on Brownfields legislation and other things, and you just you, you find each other when those things happen. And it was an exciting moment when this was happening.


David Bradbury  06:27

It just took a big room to get everybody in there.


Matt Dunne  06:29



Sam RG  06:30

And were you doing that right out of school?


Matt Dunne  06:32

Yeah, I got I got elected by that same home community that, you know, basically brought me up. The same year, I graduated from college.


David Bradbury  06:43

You’re like, 22, maybe 22?


Matt Dunne  06:45

Yep. And there were a couple of us who are on the younger side who got elected. And, and again, it was one of those things where, you know, it had not been a Democratic district. And, you know, so no one was running on the Democratic side. And I was like, Sure, let’s, let’s, let’s do this. And


David Bradbury  07:03

They probably just didn’t want to give you rides anymore.


Matt Dunne  07:05



David Bradbury  07:06

Give him a job, let’s go.


Matt Dunne  07:07

But it was really it was amazing, who came out of the woodwork to support that campaign. And a lot of it was folks who were retired, who I’d known forever, but they were so excited that I decided to come home. They were like, Okay, if you’re up for this, let’s go do it. And, and then it. And then once you’re once you’re in the legislature, if you work hard, people will respect that in Vermont Right? It’s not, at least at the timee certainly, it was not a big partisan bastion, they were just like, do you return my calls? Do you listen? Do you try new things?


David Bradbury  07:46

Right, right. Let’s go to the Thrush Tavern and talk about something over a burger and a beer.


Sam RG  07:52

And I think people get so excited of young people that are interested in politics too, right? Because it’s like, let’s help this guy succeed now. So he sticks around.


Matt Dunne  08:00

And it was one of those moments where you you have to… I never claimed that I had any of the answers, but that I was just going to work hard. And that’s that’s my biggest advice to any of the young people who are now who were there a few of them who are coming up in the legislature is don’t


David Bradbury  08:18

Lucie Boyden right? Mark Boyden’s daughter. Yeah.


Matt Dunne  08:21

You don’t, you don’t have to know anything about all the policy things. What people want to know is you’re going to be committed to working hard and making the best judgment. And it is such a place for if you’re intellectually curious or policy curious or curious about how human nature works is just a great place to throw yourself.


David Bradbury  08:42

That’s a really interesting point. And I always like supporting people for office that don’t come with the answer or a conclusion, right, they come with curiosity, some, you know intellectual horsepower, and are willing to listen from two perspectives they may not agree with or not. And we all got to get share this planet together. And…


Matt Dunne  09:04

We could probably go on about the legislature, but one of my, one of my favorite things, and I don’t remember who told me this, but they reminded me that no one got elected to the legislature by accident. And so my job since I wasn’t in leadership, I was a brand new person and Ralph Wright, you know, calling me nicknames and all of that. My job was to go and figure out why was each one of those people elected, what was it about him? What was it? The connection that they had to their community or the passion? And that’s when I became friends with people like Cola Hudson, and other, other folks who are very different, you know..


David Bradbury  09:42

Bob Wood was one of the ones I used to


Matt Dunne  09:43



David Bradbury  09:44

just respect and you know, you had to get him when he was off the tractor.


Matt Dunne  09:49

Yeah or Bob Kinsey. Or, like all, lots of folks who just and when you dug in, you understood why their community respected them so much. And that allowed you to figure out ways to work with them to solve problems together.


David Bradbury  10:04

You don’t get that on TikTok, Sam. No, I think we’re missing that.


Sam RG  10:09

You make it sound like I’m on TikTok.


David Bradbury  10:12

I know. Are you? I have no idea. I have no idea. All right, we heard about what’s your most memorable, or forgettable moment of state government service? Because you did it for a bunch of years? Like, what do you pull from that?


Matt Dunne  10:25

Yeah, I mean, I think there were a few big moments. You know, I remember the coalition we brought together to create the Vermont Film Commission, which was fascinating, where we had the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, and the Teamsters, together on a bill pushing it through the leadership didn’t know what it was the Legislative Council was like, that’s not going to be a thing. We’re not we don’t have time to write it. So I said, Okay, I’ll, I’ll write the statute. And then they had to fix it for three years. And but it was just, it was a great coalition of folks trying to solve, you know, for an economic development opportunity that pulled it together. Same with the Brownfields legislation, that that came together. You know, so there, there are moments like tha,t there were dramatic moments, like when there were really, really close votes for Speaker of the House and and then there were just some, some magnificent moments of, you know, around big issues, whether it’s, you know, I wasn’t I wasn’t there for the civil unions vote, but I was there for the lead up to it. Because I had accepted the appointment at the, in the Clinton ministration as the head of AmeriCorps VISTA, but it was, but there were just some passionate people who would come out of the woodwork and make you feel like you were part of something bigger.


Sam RG  11:46

What a way to learn as a young person, right, like talking about drinking from a firehose?


Matt Dunne  11:51



Sam RG  11:52

So did you, tell me about your path after legislator? Did you go? You didn’t do the VISTA? You went to Google first?


Matt Dunne  11:59

No, no. So…


Sam RG  12:01

I’m all over the place.


Matt Dunne  12:02

I was in the house for seven and a half years. And while I was doing that, I was doing some work in downtown White River Junction to be able to do revitalization and joined a software company called Logic Associates, okay, got, which was a software company..


Sam RG  12:18

I knew there had to be a bridge there.


Matt Dunne  12:19

But those were at the same time. And so, so anyone who says Matt, in the legislature, like quite literally, yeah, no, no, it was, which was in the 90s. And this was early in that process. And so anyone who tells me, why do you think you can do tech companies and rural I’m like well I…


Sam RG  12:36

I am tech companies, and rural


Matt Dunne  12:38

We did!


David Bradbury  12:39

We did it on windows 95 no less.


Matt Dunne  12:41

Exactly, you know, serving commercial printers all over the world, from Wilder, Vermont. And then I got appointed the head of AmeriCorps VISTA. So stepped away from the legislature with the encouragement of lots of mentors, like Obi and, and others, to go and lead that 6000 person organization, which was incredible experience and you just sort of step up and say, Alright, what, what, what can we do with this amazing group of passionate people who want to go in and lead the effort on the, on the war on poverty, and so did that for two and a half years, through 9/11, which was a fascinating moment with the call to service and everything else. So extraordinary. But my mom had passed away. And so there’s the farm back home. And, you know, I was in the Bush administration, and was proud to be trying to make those bridges. But it was pretty clear. It was time to come home. So and as I was coming back, Sarah and I were getting married. And Dick McCormack called me and said, Hey, I’m stepping away from the Senate and you should run. I was like, Dick, I’m getting married. I can’t. I can’t.


David Bradbury  13:58

Oh you’ll have plently of time when it’s done


Matt Dunne  14:01

So, so just stepped right into that race for the Senate. And so I served two terms in the Senate while working at Dartmouth College. And then I, I, it’s hard to be in the state legislature with a growing family because the compensation.


Sam RG  14:18

Can’t imagine, yeah.


Matt Dunne  14:18

Absurd. And so I decided to make a run for lieutenant governor, because I had a different vision for what that office could be. And had, you know, a funny thing in, in politics, usually, you know, you win and you go on, or you lose, and you’re like, Alright, I’ve got a different career. I came close. And that’s almost the most torturous thing, right? I exceeded expectations. And so I was like, hmm, maybe this is a thing, but I gotta figure out what to do. And I got a call from from Google, from a friend that I had made through Murrow Weinberger of all people and said, sorry about that race, you’re in whatever it was, but apparently we need some with your weird background to help us talk with people. They were like, you know, because they were building data centers in rural places. And they they were botching it. Right? They tried..


David Bradbury  15:11

It can be a really scary thing to see, you know, what’s a server farm?


Matt Dunne  15:15

I know they were they were building a million square foot building in a community of less than 10,000 people and trying to do it in secret.


Sam RG  15:25



Matt Dunne  15:26

Does not work.


Sam RG  15:27



Matt Dunne  15:27

Turns out it lands you on the front page of the business section of the New York Times site saying, hiding in plain sight, not not what Google was looking for.


David Bradbury  15:36

We know a guy.


Matt Dunne  15:38

Well it was interesting it, it was the right combination of things. And then they said, This sounds great. How soon can you move to Mountain View California? And I said, Never. And there was this long pause on the other side of the phone.


Sam RG  15:52

Before people were working remotely, like


Matt Dunne  15:55



Sam RG  15:56



Matt Dunne  15:57

And so they said, we’ll get back to you. And two months went by and I was like, Maybe I screwed this up. We had just had our first kid, my in laws had moved up to be near us, I was like, I’m not doing. And so then they got sued in North Carolina when they were trying to put their data center in there. And they called me back and said, We don’t care where you live. If you can be in Lenore, North Carolina next week. And I was like, we’re in where that’s brave. So we opened an office in White River Junction in the tip top building a Google office, it’s still there. There’s still Google employees working out of there.


David Bradbury  16:32

So cool, so cool.


Sam RG  16:33

I mean, I’m, I am such a believer in serendipitous moments and things happening for a reason.


Matt Dunne  16:39



Sam RG  16:39

You gotta tell me, you’re the same, because that just doesn’t, you don’t narrowly miss something like thart and then get a phone call from Google unless that was what was supposed to happen.


Matt Dunne  16:48

You keep the aperture open. Right. And there was plenty of disappointment. I mean, I tried things I you know, applied for other jobs in that two month interim, which didn’t work out. But if you keep your eyes open, you can actually find some really incredible paths.


Break  17:08

You’re listening to start hear a podcast from Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies. VCET is a public benefit corporation serving Vermont businesses from start to scale. We provide no cost strategic business advising for any business owner, regardless of stage or industry, as well as venture capital for early stage tech or tech enabled businesses. You can find us online at That’s V C E T dot co. If you like what you’re hearing, please help us out and rate review and subscribe to our podcast today. Now, back to the show.


David Bradbury  17:48

For the record, I voted for you. Just there’s been some suspicion I know Matt between us over the years. But I did vote for you. i That’s all I’m gonna say.


Sam RG  17:59

It’s on the record now so…


David Bradbury  18:00

I hear it, I hear it. Let’s get to what you’re doing. Right. What is the Center on Rural innovation? And why did you start it?


Matt Dunne  18:08

Sure. Well, I, you know, saw this amazing thing called VCET and I said we can do this elsewhere. No joke. And one of the things that. David, you and I also did when I was in the Senate, we were collaborating on things like the seed fund.


David Bradbury  18:25

Exactly, would not have happened for you and Tim Asch, and Vince and Hendon Miller.


Matt Dunne  18:30

And just trying to figure stuff out so, so what was the, so after I tried again, at statewide office in 2016, apparently wasn’t the year to do it and didn’t make it out of the primary. I you know, I had…


Sam RG  18:44

2016 was not a great year.


Matt Dunne  18:46

It was an odd year. And I you know, and it was at that point where I was like, you know, the politics thing I love, I love public service, but maybe that’s not my path. And so I took a step back and said, alright, what, what has been my core? What is it that I can bring to the table that can make a difference. And it was interesting, working for Google, from 2007 and 2016. And seeing Google just grow like a juggernaut. And the cities where Google would had its main focus, also just doing amazingly well. And then seeing the rural places that I had worked with that AmeriCorps VISTA and frankly, across much of Vermont crater. And just that, so there were just two things happening. And it just didn’t make any sense. Right? It you were, I was like, How can there be these two worlds going on at the same time? And so I had an appointment at the MIT Media Lab and I was given the opportunity to really dig deep, with some very smart people into those issues of what was going on. And what became clear is that there was an untold story, which is that the recovery from the Great Recession was incredibly unequal based on geography, historically it had been unequal. Maybe one region did better or whatever, but the rural urban divide had been pronounced. And when you dug into the reasons, it was the winners and losers of automation, you had cities that have benefited tremendously from the technology jobs that had come out of the recession, as there was urgency to figure out new ways to automate


David Bradbury  20:36

with broadband in place, for example.


Matt Dunne  20:38

And all of that and in rural places, you know, you saw the first net loss of population in rural America in 70 years, but no one was talking about it. And you just saw this, this tension. And so with the supportive of Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, who went to high school in Vermont, of all things, I pitched him on this, I said, you know, what, in the age of the internet, this shouldn’t be a thing. There should be the ability to build companies like Logic Associates, which is where I worked in the 90s. Anywhere. And he basically said, I have heard of crazier things. Let’s give this a shot. And you know, you’re probably the only one with the weird set of ink of experiences to be able to try to..


Sam RG  21:30

Sort of a theme in your life, isn’t it Matt?


Matt Dunne  21:33

Strange intersection of experiences. So, so he got us started. And it was an that was focused here in Springfield, to be able to get a pilot off the ground, because Springfield had gotten fiber to the home very early. So it had gigabit speed.


David Bradbury  21:52

Been a giga-city for a long time,


Matt Dunne  21:55

But nobody knew about it. It was the best kept secret in you know, economic development. And so Bob Flint, who’s the head of the Economic Development Corporation here, and I think the hardest working person in economic development, he is just, it takes it so too hard the work that he does, he tries every single piece, incredibly creative. And he was like, let’s, let’s see if we can figure something out. And so we we started down a path, and we were able to raise $2 million to be able to get the Black River Innovation Campus off the ground, thanks to a real network in Vermont, including Dave, who, you know, contributed out of VCET coffers. And, and the folks up at Dartmouth and Dan Smith and


David Bradbury  22:49

the Community Foundation stepped up.


Matt Dunne  22:51

And we, we convinced the Kauffman Foundation, that I had known from doing Google Fiber in Kansas City, I was like you want it want to walk the walk in doing rural, here’s the place to do it, came to the table. And then we got to build-to-scale grant, and, from the EDA, and which is a very competitive grant. And when we got it, they said, you know, we’re excited, you got this, but you’re the only completely rural place in the country to have received one this year. And that’s kind of a problem for us, because we’re getting all kinds of heat, including from Senator Leahy and others who was who were saying, look, there’s a divide, and you’re, you’re exacerbating it, right? If you’re pouring all of the innovation support money into the places that are already on that flywheel, you’re not going to be addressing MIT creating an equilibrium. So they, they asked, they said, Would you be interested in a contract to be able to do this work in other and try to find other places that would be interested in doing this? And we said, Of course, yes, please. Because our whole thesis and Dave, you may remember this, was that one rural innovation hub on its own was going to struggle, it wasn’t gonna have the deal flow to attract a lot of investors. It wasn’t gonna have the talent flow, to attract hiring partners. But if you created a consortium, a collective, you could get network value. And that was one of the things that that Reed Hoffman and I brainstormed, he was like, no, no, you need to create this. You don’t want to own and operate, it doesn’t make sense to be, you know, Tech Stars or whatever.


David Bradbury  24:30

Have your own branded, the local thing to buy in, own it want it, live it.


Matt Dunne  24:34

It’s going to be different for everybody. The assets are different and all of that. And so we started on a journey that EDA thought we were going to go and have to like knock on doors in various parts of the country to find other places to do this. And we sent out an email, they sent out an email, for seven slots to help support with technical service. We got 120 applications from rural communities across the country. Who had already started down this path, but we’re looking for the purchase to be able to get to that next level. And it was a little overwhelming because they had to do a lot of filtering out. And then we had to go to them and say, Hey, we’re here to help you do this, we’ve only done this in one place where I knew everybody. But if you are up for learning with us, we’re going to throw everything we’ve got to help you get there. And so we did it with one group, and half of them were able to be successful, which was still an increase. But we learned a lot. And then we went and worked with another one. And some of those same communities helped coach the the next round of communities. And we got better and better at it. During that two year, contract we had with the EDA, and then they were like, Okay, you guys have figured it out, you’re on your own, which made us you know, breathe deeply. But but by that point, we’re able to find other corporations and foundations and some communities who had funding to be able to support doing it in other places. And so we now have 38 communities who are paying members of a network, who have all gone through a process, and we’ve helped, we’ve helped communities raise $40 million in the last six years.


David Bradbury  26:21

Congratulations. That’s so awesome.


Matt Dunne  26:23

And that’s, and that’s not solving it all right, but it’s giving them a turn at the plate, it’s giving them the chance to stand up something in


David Bradbury  26:31

models that are from places that are similar enough that you can help me some of the stuff you could see in large cities, you know, what’s the Vermont size is sort of what we how do we Vermont this in a way that people buy into can scale sustain, and create impacts? And I…


Matt Dunne  26:47

When I said I was you know, borrowing from VCET, I’m not joking, it was like, look, this can happen in smaller scale cities, there’s no reason why it can’t happen in places that are you know, 20,000, 10,000, in number and so it’s, it’s been great to have models to work with.


David Bradbury  27:06

We learned a ton from you know, whatever, bread crumbs, Matt leaves behind that we can snip up? How many? How many people are CORI now?


Matt Dunne  27:17

So we have we have, we have multiple entities.  So it’s it’s, it’s probably more complicated.


Sam RG  27:19

What does the structure look like?  How much time do you have?


David Bradbury  27:24

Yeah, give us the simple version, right.


Matt Dunne  27:26

So we have, we have two entities. So there’s the Center on Rural Innovation, which is a 501 C-3, that works only with philanthropic dollars to be able to address things. And then we’ve got Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc, that does fee for service work. And also does you know, work for corporate clients that helps with contracts for broadband, started with a small little thing there. And then the pandemic happened and suddenly, that was a larger team doing work, and all over the country. And then we have the CORI Innovation Fund. And so this is our investment vehicle that Jay Bockhaus.


David Bradbury  28:07

Great guy, great guy.


Matt Dunne  28:08

And that’s a wholly owned subsidiary of the Center on Rural Innovation. And so we have LPs, who are the investors who come in, but half the carry from the fund that goes back to the nonprofit. And so hopefully, if that is successful, as we hope it will be, it’ll create a virtuous cycle. So if we’re successful with supporting companies that are at that seed stage, and they have an exit, then that can provide more sustaining income back to the organization to help nurture the next round. So So those, those are the three big parts that we have as part of the enterprise. And they’re, they’re all separate by design. But what they do is allow us to bring all forms of capital to address this really tough problem. And some people want to be involved because they want to do a fee for service projects, some want to be investors, some want to give through through a charitable thing. And we need all those players to come together. And we were fortunate to have a great attorney who did work for Bridgespan and others who helped us figure out how to navigate that and make it work. But across all entities, we’re now 43 people and a little under half are in Vermont, New Hampshire. So in this area and the rest are distributed across the country. We’ve reflecting the mosaic that is rural America.


Sam RG  29:39

So cool, Matt, and I just love that you’ve used such a creative model to make it happen. Because if people want to engage, you got to figure out a way to get them to engage, right, especially if they have some sort of funding available.


Matt Dunne  29:52

My director of operations and finance might call it something other than creative but it’s a because she is amazing at keeping all these pieces straight and federal contracts and all the things but in some ways, our view is we should, we should take those things on so we can understand how to do them, maybe help do them on behalf of some of the communities.


David Bradbury  30:13

That’s a big barrier for communities. So like, I mean, the Federal dollars are are wonderful, but they’re terrifying. And to the newbies like VCET, you know, it is a high barrier to entry and access. And, you know, if you’re able to make it easy, get that know where that fear out of the way train them like that’s, that’s so smart and…


Matt Dunne  30:37

Build, build the muscle and build the lessons learned because we can now advise having done it, right, when they’re trying to figure out how do I deal with this reimbursement issue, because we need to move money from this thing to we’ve been there we’ve you know, knocked our head against the wall trying to figure it out, we figured it out. And then we’re able to help share that work elsewhere.


David Bradbury  30:59

You can’t figure this stuff out. So Sam and I are gonna break down in tears a little bit here in a moment, but…


Sam RG  31:03

You’re fine. One of the things I wanted to ask you about is there are so many problems in rural America. And we are, you know, we talk about them all the time, they’re very much in front of our faces. I want to talk a little bit about the solutions that you’re excited about, what are the things that are emerging from your work that are getting you really stoked?


Matt Dunne  31:26

So I think there’s a few things. First of all, you know, our whole premise is that a fundamental piece to rural places doing better, is making sure they have economies that are functioning, and can be aspirational for people who decide they want to come home, to be able to come home. And if you don’t have you know, a tradable services economy these days, you’re not going to have that you need to be importing cash and exporting value if you’re in a rural place. And that used to be, you know, agriculture, or extraction or manufacturing. But those have been automating faster and faster and faster, and also being owned by larger and larger enterprises. And so the ability to either create wealth or create high quality paying jobs becomes harder in those areas. So that’s why we zero in on helping build tech economies that are focused on coming from the ground up focused as, as you know, the power of entrepreneurs, when they have the opportunity to have their ideas unlocked, are phenomenal. And, but getting that rolling is hard, I would say that the biggest challenge that we’ve run into was not getting, you know, in a model for an accelerator off the ground, or helping people figure out how to do a cowork space in Portsmouth, Ohio. It’s the narrative shift there, there’s there’s somehow became an occult of agglomeration, there was this belief that you had to have at least 500,000 people around you to have enough of the talent to be able to start and grow a company that would have a big exit. And it’s just not true. And they had gotten so sunk in. And then the other view was that somehow, if you lived in a rural place, you couldn’t code or that by definition, you weren’t going to have the education or all the smart kids, you know, went away. And so it’s the people are stuck, who are left there. And that’s the view that you hear from, you know, national coastal pundits from cities. You know, my buddy, Paul Krugman being one of the worst right, to make assumptions about people who are living in smaller communities. But unfortunately, it also started to sink in to folks in those communities themselves. And they’re challenged to be able to have the hope that something like this could happen is hard. And so you’ve got to be able to get to the place where you can show it. I mean, you saw this right. In Burlington, it wasn’t known as a startup capital for but once he started to see an IDX, do something or much less, you know, eventually and other, that’s when the fly will start. So it’s about lifting it up. But what I would say is the most insane, I think your question was what was the most inspiring…


Sam RG  34:28

Or just like what solutions are, are getting you excited?


Matt Dunne  34:31

Yeah, no, it’s, it’s


Sam RG  34:33

But I love the shifting narrative is a great example.


Matt Dunne  34:37

And it can happen. So places and spaces matter. Right? As, as we say, Zoom town is not community. If you’re not getting together, you’re not having those virtuous collisions and those, you know, discoveries that lead to the next thing and then we’ve seen interesting models of software project shops at the center of a growing ecosystem. So someone who just started doing, you know, software projects is an individual that hired a couple people. And what they figure out is that A, the best way to learn coding is project based. So they’ll do a couple of classes or say, watch this Khan Academy thing. Now let’s just work on this together. Yeah. And people from very different educational trajectories. Turns out, there’s a subset that are really good at coding, regardless of where they they came from, or what they did in their career. And those same leaders of those organizations have also figured out if those people leave to go start something or to join another company, that’s awesome. That it’s not a zero sum game that, in fact, that’s probably more deal flow for the software project. So they ended up becoming an interesting, quiet, like, these are not people who are, you know, giving speeches, you know, from the rooftops, or whatever. But they become a very generous piece of that tech ecosystem, that then allows for other things to come off it. So this is a discovery we made along the way we’re trying to figure out how do we how do we, you know, plant those, right? How do we figure out how to find someone and support them to be able to do that in places other than Cape Girardeau, Missouri or Waterville, Maine?


David Bradbury  36:28

Great insight. Yeah. Really interesting learning. Yeah. And that’s, I mean, you have the network now, I mean, right. So you get the data points. And typically, because programs have run over time, right, you…


Matt Dunne  36:39

Totally and places that had already started down this path, like, we’re learning so much from them, and what we’re adding is this community that they didn’t know existed, and they sometimes, you know, they’ve said, on occasion, Matt, the greatest thing you gave me was the belief that I’m not crazy. Yeah. Right. Because they had, you know, everyone who said, That’s nuts. You can’t do this here. And then you find other people who are doing it in unusual places, and finding ways to make it happen. Yeah, and it’s just exciting.


Sam RG  37:15

What a confidence booster right? For people that are like, is this a waste of my time? Is this a waste of resources? Am I kidding myself? And like hearing like, no, and this person is also doing it over here. And here’s their email, like, that’s huge.


David Bradbury  37:28

It’s solving that loneliness experienced by entrepreneurs and founders, like, you know, it’s me and the dog late at night talking to each other go on, should I do this? Should I not do that? You know, so that has such power, and I’m really interested on foundational to the formation of CORI and RISI was was was data, insights and measurements. And and you really described the sort of human connective tissue also necessary. So how do they complement where do they meet?


Matt Dunne  37:57

Yeah, it was, it was funny. The one thing that Reed Hoffman said I had to do was hire a data scientist, which if you know, Reed is not shocking. And also, not shocking was that he was absolutely right. And in fact, is we were trying to get our whole concept off the ground of creating this collective and all that stuff. And we were, it took a while to get the funding together for for even the the pilot here in Springfield, we were actually being contacted, because we were pushing out this data about what was happening in rural economies, we were pushing out the information about the gap in computer math jobs in the big, the big aha moment was that if in rural America represents 12% of the nation’s workforce, but only 5% of the computer math jobs. And if computer and math jobs are going to be the center of a tech economy and innovation economy and IP based economy, you need to have them there. It doesn’t mean all tech jobs need to be in rural or all rural jobs need to be tech jobs, but it needs to be a piece of it. Otherwise, it’s going to be another version of extraction, right? A call center somewhere. Sure, it’ll create some jobs for a while. But it’s not where the center of gravity is going to be or the wealth creation. And so we just started pushing this stuff out there. And people responded that we had we got a contract with Fannie Mae, because they were saying, We haven’t made an investment in multi unit housing in rural America since the since the recession hit. And it’s and we don’t understand what’s happening in these economies, can you can you help us understand that? And we were like, yes, we could do that as we were running out of our first grant. And then yes, and then other folks were saying, Can you you know, and it was even, you know, Schmidt Futures, Eric Schmidt’s foundation said, we’re not sure about this tech and rural thing, but you’ve shown there’s a problem. Can you help us to understand it more and gave us resources to create a public facing set of data and maps, so people can start to look at where there are gaps where there’s opportunity, where are things happening that are above the norm. And it was, it was pretty foundational to what we’re doing. I was delighted they were, I was like, you’re going to pay us to get smarter. Before we go and do stuff. Let’s go. And then that’s been able to carry forward. And so we’ve been doing additional research and diving to interesting topics, like the intersection of race and rural and the future of work around the country. I mean, rural America is not White America, and understanding what those dynamics look like in data and then being able to ground truth it by work that we’re doing and Chambers County, Alabama, or Selma, or Pine Bluff is super powerful. But yeah, so we’ve got, we can’t help ourselves on the data side.


David Bradbury  41:02

Yeah, keep standing nerd.


Matt Dunne  41:05



Sam RG  41:06

Love that. One of the questions I wanted to ask you about is, you know, you, you started this in Springfield. And we’re sitting here in Springfield, brick, super cool. We’ve had a great day here. Meeting with one of our portfolio companies Cannatrol which has 19 amazing jobs up the street. What is your hope for Springfield? Where do you think it is? Now? Where do you think it’ll be in 10 years? What do you hope that happens here?


Matt Dunne  41:36

Springfield has this unbelievable history. It Springfield had the highest per capita income in the state of Vermont for 40 years.


Sam RG  41:44

We were telling Nicole that on our way down here.


Matt Dunne  41:46

Based on the innovation technology, right, the best machine tool technology in the world, it was on Hitler’s bomb list, because the IP that was being produced here was so important to the war movement. It was known globally, and it was producing, you know, governors and senators and, and all of that. And I think as is true for many rural places, there became an over dependence on a single industry and one or two companies. Yeah. And when you have that over dependence, especially when it gets bought up by multinational which is you know, a natural process, but when you when you lean on that too much, you usually then get caught off guard and you have a pretty high impact when suddenly something happens that and you see it you see that it with furniture and Lenore North Carolina, you see it in aluminum smelting and other places. I mean, if you become overdependent, it becomes a problem.


Sam RG  42:44

The Northeast Kingdom with furniture too.


Matt Dunne  42:46

Yeah, absolutely. No, no, it’s not a new. Yeah, new story. And so and what’s, what’s it and we’re sitting in this, this building, which is the Park Street School, which is one of the most magnificent buildings, in the city.


Sam RG  42:59

Oh, I almost didn’t sit down to record the podcast because I wanted to just keep wandering around. And


Matt Dunne  43:03

It it is, it’s stunning. It was built by the people of Springfield, when they were at their pinnacle. And they believed in public education, and they believed in creating a place to really worship education.


David Bradbury  43:22

In the opera house across the hall here. The auditorium is unbelievable.


Matt Dunne  43:26

It’s it’s tremendous and in fact, you know, Bob Flint when he was going here, it had the, the top STEM classes in the state, but he went to school in this building. He did, he did, and the graduates were going to MIT and, and, you know, Rensselaer, and and, I mean, they were at the pinnacle in Vermont, for that science and technology. So when it fell, though, it fell really hard. And it was particularly at a time with the recession, where nothing was going to go its way and it became one of the epicenters of the opioid crisis. To the point where one of the main downtown buildings was the place where all the dealers were setting up shop until in 2016. You know, we had a sweep of, you know, the, the feds and the state troopers came through and had to clean the whole place out take over the building by eminent domain, whole nine yards. And, you know, I think the, the, the upside of that the only upside is that the community was like, alright, we’re open to something let’s, let’s try something different.


David Bradbury  44:37

And a generation of sort of coming to terms with the change.


Matt Dunne  44:41

Exactly. And so people have been so excited and welcoming, a little cautious, right, you know, they worry a lot.


David Bradbury  44:49

It’s Vermont, we’re gonna watch it for a little bit and prove it.


Matt Dunne  44:53

But it’s, but willing to give it a shot. And, and so that that’s been great. I will say that we also, and we talked about this a lot, we made lots of mistakes with Springfield, because we were trying stuff for the first time. And we were clear about that. We were like, Hey, we’re going to try it here first, we’re not sure if it’s going to work. And even some of the design pieces at COVID aside, of our original accelerator, were were not what they they could have been. We took on, you know, a big redevelopment project that, you know, was probably great in the long run, but a distraction in the short run, you know, grateful for it now, but it just elongated things. And then we took that and learned it elsewhere. But we’re seeing folks who are coming into town who are wanting to be a part of this ecosystem. We’ve got folks who are coming home, which is super exciting, this guy who became a photographer for social media in Brooklyn who grew up, his name’s Kaz, and, and his, you know, dad wasn’t doing so well. So he decided to move home. And he’s set up his own little shop right down the street here, connected with this and is now part of that ecosystem. And so my hope is that it gets back to those roots of innovation. And it wasn’t a big, wasn’t a big city when it was the center of innovation, right? It was, it’s more more population that has now but it was still small, and yet was creating this amazing amount of ideas, and new companies and new products that were transforming the world.


Sam RG  46:30

Love it. This is a bit of a related question. I know we do have to wrap up soon, but I can’t help myself. What can people specifically in Chittenden County do for places outside of Chittenden? County in Vermont? I think, obviously, that’s a topic that comes up a lot in the state, most of you know, people assume that most of the innovation is happening in Chittenden. County. And, you know, we hit the road enough that we know that’s not true. But I’m just curious, from your perspective, how can folks in Shelburne or Essex, contribute to rural Vermont?


Matt Dunne  47:09

Well, it’s, it’s doing exactly what you guys are doing, which is showing up? Right, yeah, it’s coming and seeing what’s going on and what’s happening. It’s, I mean, we, over the last several years, we’ve had this, this support from Vermont Community Foundation, to take what we did here in Springfield, and we started doing other parts of the country. Dan Smith said, Look, if we’re going to be resilient in the long term when a pandemic hits, we need more of this can you work with Rutland and with Randolph and with St. Johnsbury, we were like, of course, love to do that. Out of that then came. So they’re accelerators. Now in all three of those places as well. We then were invited by the Agency of Commerce to put in a proposal for the SSPCI funding that came through and to experiment with a specific kind of funding, which is really mimicking an angel investment layer, where we’re going to be able to invest that first $50,000 to startups that are are not in Chittenden County, which has an angel network, already has founders who have exited who are investing in other companies, but can we bring that out into the the Rutlands, St. Johnsburys, and Randles and Springfield’s. But it comes with a one to one match. So what I would say for folks who are in the technology world in Chittenden, county, we’re going to be surfacing. inspiring new founders with MVPs in different parts of state, they’re already starting to show up that are being supported by these accelerators in these different places that are regional hubs. And come check them out.


David Bradbury  49:01

We’ve run to invest alongside Jay and you and some things and it’s it’s really neat to see other communities trying economic development a little different way. They’ve got a little bit of money to take a bet on that team with potential and maybe mentoring or a network to rely on that should improve the odds and Alright, so it’s not not because you got like a parking ticket in Chittenden County one time that.


Matt Dunne  49:29

I love Chittenden County it’s a great place.  And it’s it’s doing okay.


Sam RG  49:35

It’s doing okay, don’t worry about us.


David Bradbury  49:39

Everybody’s working hard. Yeah, for sure.


Matt Dunne  49:42

Between what you have at VCET what what Russ has been able to do with Hula, it’s showing of course we can do these kinds of aspirational things. And that should not be seen as, oh, that can only happen there. That there are versions, right sized doesn’t have have to be at the same level, but right size that can happen all throughout our state and get us back to an equilibrium. So it’s not it’s not one part of the state versus the other part of the state. It’s in everyone’s interest. The whole state is succeeding in their various places. That’s when you get back to balance.


Sam RG  50:17

We just need more Monique Priestley’s. Am I right?


Matt Dunne  50:20



Sam RG  50:21

Just if we get clone that.


Matt Dunne  50:22

Willing more Moniques into existence.


David Bradbury  50:24

Why didn’t we go see her today?


Matt Dunne  50:26



David Bradbury  50:27

She’s in..


Matt Dunne  50:28

She’s in in the legislature.  With her third hat on.


David Bradbury  50:31

Yeah right. Yeah. There’s a young person doing amazing things with fearlessness and kindness and intelligence. I mean, it’s effing awesome.


Matt Dunne  50:40

No, Marguerite Dibble, right. who grew up in Langrove, and, you know, move back down to this area and said, Matt, what can I do? And she has been helping here a brick, we had a gap in the executive director, I said, Marguerite, would you be willing to be the executive director on an interim basis, she was like, of course, she already has. She has a company, she has the other.


David Bradbury  51:03

She’s all over us. She was the first member at our VCET space in downtown, I call her up. And I was like, Hey, we’re thinking of doing this thing. And I’d like to populate it with a couple of interesting people. She hung up the phone, like basically left the lease she was in and moved in before we were even, like, open and had desks. So and then, you know, toggles all around Vermont, which is so awesome.


Matt Dunne  51:24

Doesn’t surprise me at all. I mean, it’s but it’s, it’s generous. It’s folks who have succeeded by generosity. And forward, so exciting. And it’s just lovely to be a part of that.


David Bradbury  51:36

I’m not the intellectual on our side of the table, but who are you listening to a reading that you think others could really, you know, learn or be inspired by?


Matt Dunne  51:48

You know, that as you as we discussed, I had a political background. There’s a congressman named Rho Khanna, who wrote a book recently, he’s the congressman from Silicon Valley. And what’s fascinating is that he is decided that the privilege he has of representing Silicon Valley, is to make sure that Silicon Valley is not the only place that is able to benefit from the innovation economy. And so he is gone. I mean, I didn’t even have I didn’t talk to him, he had already started going out and saying, how do we make sure that this stuff is able to take legs in, in Western Kentucky and, you know, rural Ohio and other places, and it’s just, it’s been, it’s just been very consistent and inspiring. And I, anyway, so I highly recommend his book. And, you know, that’s, that’s probably the one that I’ll, I’ll leave you with, for right now. The CTO of, of Microsoft. Also, also wrote a book about AI and rural America. And Kevin Scott is his name, came up, you know, from grew up in rural Virginia, had a scholarship to college and then made his way up the ranks. And he’s now you know, in probably the most powerful, you know, tech position in the world. And, and he just, he talked about how AI could be a powerful unlocking factor for rural people.


Sam RG  53:37

Positive spin.


Matt Dunne  53:38

He really and he, you know, he said there’s a danger that he could exacerbate the divide. But he also talks about how it can allow for solopreneurs to get much more traction. And for rural folks who haven’t had the same access to resources to be able to get an idea to market and then have then then be able to get those kinds of resources. So yeah, Kevin Scott and and Rho Khanna are.


David Bradbury  54:08

Thank you. Psyched!


Sam RG  54:11

All right. We do have to jump to our magic wand question. But before we do that, how can people learn more about CORI? Is there a newsletter we should subscribe to follow on LinkedIn? What’s the best way to get in touch?


Matt Dunne  54:22

All of the above. We are very active on LinkedIn. We do have a newsletter if you go to Okay. You can see a lot of our data our reports our updates, inspiring stories from the communities that we’re working with including many in Vermont and and do sign up for the newsletter. We do it monthly and we try to make it meaty and valuable. And we love getting more people involved through that medium.


Sam RG  54:53



David Bradbury  54:54

Do we have to have gone through your program to be part of your network?


Matt Dunne  55:01

Not necessarily but most have we had, we’ve had one because we want to make sure that everyone who’s in the network is on the journey. So they need to be rural, you know, in a non metro area. The the first community that’s come in sort of without having gone through the program is Paducah, Kentucky, which has a phenomenal place called Sprocket. And they’ve been doing tech startups and tech talent development programs for a number of years. And we were like, we would love you to come in. And as soon as we gave them sort of, you know, membership right away. They said, so, can we contract with you to apply for a build to scale grant, we’re like, got it. Sure. And they want us to do an assessment because they’re like we have we have a lot to learn as well. So that..


David Bradbury  55:52

Okay, great. Thank you.


Matt Dunne  55:54

Yeah, happens. Yeah, sorry.


Sam RG  55:55

All right. No, all good. All right. So magic one time. If you could change one thing about Vermont today, what would you change?


Matt Dunne  56:07

Part of me that says don’t, don’t change anything. But no, I would say that there was a belief that you could have an aspirational career, in every corner of the state. That folks who grew up there are folks who want to move to a beautiful place like this, that they know that there is a chance for them to actually be involved in something special, and real and potentially big, while still having the benefit of a small community.


Sam RG  56:44

Love that.


Matt Dunne  56:45

That’s that’s that’s the magic wand and we’re not there yet. But I think we’re getting there.


Sam RG  56:49

Heck, yeah.


David Bradbury  56:52

Well, Matt done. Thank you for taking time out of what clearly is a lot more than I thought Sam, to spend time with us here at Brick today in Springfield.


Matt Dunne  57:03

Thank you all for coming down.


Sam RG  57:04

Thanks Matt.


David Bradbury  57:05

This has been start here a podcast sharing the stories of active aspiring and accidental entrepreneurs. Series is supported by the Vermont Technology Council. Thanks again, Matt. Let’s go downtown Springfield, what do you say?


Sam RG  57:19