‘Rural Businesses’ is one of the sub-topics of the broader ENRD thematic work on ‘Smart and Competitive Rural Areas’. Work on this sub-topic focused on identifying how rural entrepreneurship can be supported to better access new markets and develop new forms of successful rural business both on and off-farm.
The thematic work identified new trends and opportunities for businesses in rural Europe. These range from opportunities in biotechnology to the experience economy and from possibilities created by new information technologies to changing consumer demand.
Taking advantage of these opportunities requires new ways of thinking about rural businesses, ‘wild ideas’ and improved, modern forms of business support. These need both to provide flexible support for individual rural businesses and help to overcome the digital divide in order to improve the business environment in rural areas.
Providing flexible business support means:
- Smarter approaches that go beyond ‘one‑off’ interventions towards supporting the entire process of rural business development, innovation and acceleration (e.g. rural business accelerator approach);
- Creating a ‘support ecosystem’ that incorporates multiple elements and practices such as peer learning, mentoring, training, advice etc. that can be accessed as required;
- Ensuring that entrepreneurs are able to quickly access small-scale, flexible forms of finance;
- Adapting support models to overcome the additional practical difficulties that can arise in a rural setting.
Overcoming the digital divide involves:
- Supporting the roll-out of broadband internet access across Europe’s rural areas, for example, through innovative community broadband approaches;
- Building digital skills and capacities of rural populations and businesses to enable them to take advantage of digital opportunities, for example, to access new markets; and
- Taking advantage of tools such as rural digital hubs, which can offer fast, reliable internet access, physical work spaces and a range of business and community support services tailored to local needs.
Strategically deploying Rural Development Programme (RDP) Measures
The RDPs provide a set of tools (Measures) that can be used to contribute to these types of rural business support models. Notably by:
- building skills and capacity through knowledge transfer (M1); advisory services (M2); Cooperation (M16); LEADER/CLLD (M19); and Technical Assistance (M20); and
- providing flexible forms of finance through farm and business development (M6); and LEADER/CLLD (M19).
Good approaches involve effective use of RDP Measures in complementary ways and more effective coordination between the RDPs and other policies, initiatives and tools which can influence rural development – such as Regional Development, Broadband Europe and Financial Instruments.