"The main ingredient is access to finance"

A new European initiative is working to identify the vital ingredients for developing rural entrepreneurship and successful business models in high potential sectors such as food and agriculture, bio-based value chains and services. We spoke with Seamus Boland, CEO of Irish Rural Link, to get a flavour.

  • What are the key assets and challenges for entrepreneurship in rural areas today?

The key assets favouring entrepreneurship in rural Ireland rest primarily on our rich source of agricultural based products ranging from natural food products to farm based services. This sector is powered by a well-educated workforce, who are both technically and academically qualified. Linked to that is a series of well-placed regional technology institutes across Ireland with access to state based advice centres.

This strong heritage exists in some of Europe’s most striking countryside and varied scenery, which leads to being able to develop and deliver a range of tourism related products.

Our key challenges probably echo those felt by many rural areas. They include, poor broadband access, high cost or unsuitable transport and access to sustainable finance.

Businesses could also benefit from better marketing advice and associated services, especially as the domestic market can be quite limited. Building bridges with international networks and markets also an important issue in achieving scale.

  • Can rural business models and entrepreneurs be an example of sustainability and circular economy thinking for us all moving forward?

In Ireland circular economy projects tend to be centred in large urban areas, mainly because of higher population density. Conversely the low density of rural population tends to militate against, mainly because of higher overheads such as transport. In Paper no 144 publish by the National Economic and Social Council 2017, there are few examples of projects under this heading and of the few that exist, they are cumbersome and rely on considerable subsidisation.

Some projects related to the provision of care and assistance, including cooked meals is in operation. Many of these do not enjoy any particular structure and are dependent on indirect support from the Health Authority. In more urban areas many of the projects are based on recycling of mainly plastic products.

The used items are collected separated and sold on to companies who recycle them and make them useful. However even in urban areas these are subsidised. 

  • In your opinion, is there a recipe for business success in rural areas… and if so, what is your favourite ingredient? 

The main ingredient is access to finance. Currently, because of Ireland’s banking crisis and increased difficulties experienced by small businesses getting credit, there are many hurdles for them to overcome. 

The national credit review board, which hears appeals on behalf of businesses turned down have found in favour of a total of 48% of small businesses. For businesses engaged in green or circular economy this figure is higher.

We hope the Rubizmo project will increase our ability to identify and analyse promising business models and collaborative networks fertile for up-scaling – boosting this number and creating an attractive business or investment. 

Seamus Boland, Irish Rural Link