11 May 2023

How can business support be tailored to rural areas?

What should business support look like for rural enterprises in the North East and how should it be targeted?, writes Jonathan Kimmitt, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Durham University Business School. The North East has reached a critical stage with how it provides small business support in rural areas. Centralised support may not always adequately reflect local qualities and needs of small businesses, whilst other forms of support may be under threat altogether.

Understanding rural enterprise dynamics

Our analysis of typical enterprise policy and support highlights that most support for small and new businesses tends to focus on promoting radical innovations, using high-tech with an emphasis towards high growth and rapid scaling. On the one hand, this may be relevant to a handful of businesses in rural areas, but such policies tend not to reflect local realities particularly well. On the other hand, local funders, officials, advisors, and other intermediaries may have a better understanding of these local realities but the systematic drivers of the rural support ecosystem are not well understood.

One of seven projects funded by the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE), the primary objective of this research is to provide relevant tools to help better understand rural enterprise dynamics in their specific local area. Our project is relevant for anyone involved in supporting rural enterprises such as policymakers, local authorities and agencies, grant funders, investors, business advisors, training organisations and other local intermediary organisations.

Background research

The project is underpinned by prior published research from the project team. We will share our experiences of developing this research in thriving rural areas in Chile.

Through a series of interviews (see below), the project will adapt the “Rural Entrepreneurship Framework for Local Economic and Communal Thriving” (REFLECT) framework specifically to a North East and UK context.

The previously developed framework is made up of four key drivers of thriving rural enterprise contexts and 11 underpinning dimensions.

  1. Rural entrepreneurial dynamics refer to the presence of localised support, place-sensitive trading, and the presence of collaborative spaces.
  2. Entrepreneurial sense of rurality refers to place-sensitive products being embedded in culture and the territory.
  3. Entrepreneurial rural locale indicates the informal rules, shared beliefs that facilitate the development of the area.
  4. Finally, biophysical place of rural entrepreneurship refers to the role of rural natural capital and built assets as enablers of rural enterprise areas.

Our approach involves a solution-oriented research process through which our basic initial discoveries can be developed in a way that policymakers and other support organisations can make use of it to transform their practice.

Next steps – interviews

Those involved in supporting rural enterprises are encouraged to share their views in an interview with the project team to help understand the key drivers of thriving rural contexts for small businesses. Participants will receive a short brief with some questions before hand. This information will then be used to develop a refined version of the framework which will subsequently be developed into an interactive online tool for free widespread use. Participants will be invited to attend an event at the end and their contributions will be recognised in the final version of the research report.

If you are interested in being involved, please contact Jonathan Kimmitt at jonathan.kimmitt@durham.ac.uk