Break away from windowless hotel ballrooms — all of Keene can be a conference center.

That’s what a few local organizations hope to prove with the inaugural Radically Rural Summit Sept. 27 and 28.

Hosted jointly by The Sentinel and the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship, the two-day summit is expected to attract more than 500 people from the Monadnock Region and across New England.

Mary Ann Kristiansen, the executive director of the Hannah Grimes Center, said the event aims to explore the experience of living and working in a rural community and to create a space for innovation.

“We’re hoping to see new connections made, new networks made,” she said, “… building a network of people who really care about rural. We want doers. We don’t necessarily want the usual crowd. We want people who are really out there doing it.”

While more densely populated cities or urban areas may have highly attended conferences with one industry focus, Kristiansen pointed out that rural communities are often more diverse, which is why this conference takes a broad approach.

“(Rural communities) don’t have a huge sector of anything,” she said. “It’s just a reflection of what a real rural community looks like and what contributes to the vibrancy and the economy of that. It’s a bunch of different things.”

Terrence Williams is the president and chief operating officer at The Sentinel, and he also referenced the need to cater to the unique characteristics of the region.

“Rural communities have distinct challenges and opportunities that are not adequately addressed by conventional economic development conferences,” Williams said in a statement. “Radically Rural will focus on innovative approaches specifically designed for rural communities.”

The summit is broken down into five tracks, which Kristiansen said are tailored to what they considered to be the region’s strengths. Tracks include entrepreneurship, arts and culture, journalism, Main Street, and a focus on agriculture called working lands.

Each track is hosted by a different business or organization in the community, and interactive events, lectures and seminars will be held at venues around downtown Keene, such as The Colonial Theatre, MoCo Arts’ new center on Roxbury Street, and Centennial Alumni Hall at Keene State College.

Kristiansen said the goal is to ditch the old model of moving from room to room in a hotel and instead use the city itself as a conference center. The idea came from an art conference in Keene a couple years ago that used the same “place-based approach,” as she called it.

“It’s just so much more alive than sitting in a conference room,” Kristiansen said. “… We’re trying to set the stage for a different kind of experience … that will really be conducive to the sharing and shaping of ideas.”

She hopes the idea will expand beyond Radically Rural and catch on for other large events as well.

The partnering organizations combined the summit with another joint venture as well. CONNECT 2018: The Rural Advantage is scheduled for the first evening of the summit. This marks the 12th annual CONNECT event, an opportunity for entrepreneurs and innovators to network and share ideas about bettering their community. In past years, the event also served as a local expo, showcasing businesses from the region or installations from residents with their own revitalization concepts.

Also featured at the summit, the Hannah Grimes Center recently launched its PitchFork Challenge, a competition with two tracks. Existing businesses can enter to win the $10,000 prize, and entrepreneurs with ideas for new businesses can compete for a $1,000 People’s Choice Award.

The PitchFork Challenge will culminate with final presentations from participants at the summit as part of the entrepreneurship program track. The deadline to compete is July 31. Visit for more information, including eligibility requirements.

Go to for more about the summit, including information about how to register.

Sierra Hubbard can be reached at 355-8546 or at Follow her on Twitter at @SierraHubbardKS.