The American Farm Bureau Federation announced applications for the Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge will be accepted beginning June 1 through June 30. Entrepreneurs will compete for $145,000 in startup funds.

The challenge, now in its second year, provides an opportunity for individuals to showcase ideas and business innovations being cultivated in rural regions of the United States. It is the first national business competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs working on food and agriculture businesses.

"The inaugural challenge successfully identified rural entrepreneurs with innovative ideas, proving that great business ideas can germinate anywhere," said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. "We're excited to see the new crop of ideas our members will bring to the table this year."

New this year, competitors must have an idea for a business that is related directly or indirectly to food and agriculture. Businesses directly related to food and agriculture include farms or ranches, value-added food processing, food hubs, community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs), farm-to-table restaurants and farmers' markets. Businesses indirectly related to food and agriculture include support services such as crop scouting, agritourism, ag advertising agencies and ag tech companies that develop apps.

Also new, Farm Bureau will endeavor to connect top scoring teams with resources for crowdfunding loans to help them jumpstart their businesses.  

"Taking a startup company from innovative concept, to strategy, to reality often hinges on access to capital," said Dr. Lisa Benson, AFBF's director of rural development. "The challenge and crowdfunding are great options for small rural business owners to access necessary funding to take their business to the next level."

Again this year, competitors must be based in a rural community as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Competitors' primary residences or businesses must be located in a county with less than 50,000 residents or a town with less than 2,500 residents.

All applications, which include a business plan, video pitch and photo, must be submitted by June 30. Judges will review the applications and provide feedback to the participants. Participants have the option of resubmitting portions of their applications; resubmission is optional and participants are not penalized for not resubmitting their applications.

The top 10 teams will be announced on Oct. 15. This includes six teams who will win $10,000 in startup funds and four finalist teams who will win $15,000 in startup funds and compete in a live competition at AFBF's 97th Annual Convention in Orlando, Florida, in January.

Finalists will compete for the grand prize title Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneur of the Year and $15,000 in additional startup funds to implement their ideas. One of the finalists also will be honored with the People's Choice Award and $10,000 in additional startup funding.

The competition timeline, detailed eligibility guidelines, a preview of the online application and profiles of the 2015 finalist teams are available at http://www.strongruralamerica.com/challenge.

Judges for the challenge come from a wide range of economic development backgrounds, including banking, universities and rural development non-profit organizations. Farm Bureau staff at the county, state and national level or one of Farm Bureau's affiliate companies may not serve as judges or enter the competition.