Significant advances have been made in rural entrepreneurship in the last ten years
The theme of the conference was ‘Developing rural entrepreneurship’. The conference and it presented an opportune time to look backwards (reflecting on changes) and forwards (predicting and identifying potential) and was very appropriate for celebrating the tenth anniversary.
The two-day conference examined entrepreneurship in a rural context, focusing on matters such as farming, business start-ups and policies in the rural community. It was attended by 35 delegates made up of scholars from Nottingham Business School, the University of the West of Scotland, Heriot-Watt University, Glasgow Caledonian University, Lincoln University, Southampton Solent University; the Scottish Agricultural College and Harper Adams College, as well as delegates from Robert Gordon University. There were also international delegates from America, Holland and Finland.
Dr Robert Smith, Reader in Entrepreneurship at RGU and conference chair, remarked: “RGU is honoured to host the conference, which reflected on how the sector has evolved whilst going some way to predicting and identifying potential growth areas.
It was a great opportunity to evaluate continuity and change in rural entrepreneurship on a local, regional, national and international level. The research delivered interesting findings on the nature and practices of rural entrepreneurs whilst examining the implications of policies for rural entrepreneurs.” The conference opened with a panel discussion led by RGU’s Professor of Entrepreneurship, Alistair R Anderson, Professor Gerard McElwee from Nottingham Trent and Dr Rob Smith from RGU. This was followed by two presentations on reviewed international perspectives on the role of entrepreneurial networks in distressed rural regions and sustainable land management by Aubrey Lee and Iain Clelland respectively. Both these scholars have a Scottish ancestry. Dr Mirra Niska from Finland presented a paper on entrepreneurship policy.
Thereafter, there was a stimulating session on creative rural entrepreneurship. Dr Ian Irving from Gray’s School of Art and Huntly Entrepreneur, Claudia Zeiske, presented a paper entitled ‘Curating cultural entrepreneurship’ based on their work in Huntly in which art is used to stimulate community enterprise. This was followed by a spellbinding reading illustrated by artistic images by Helen Smith, a doctoral candidate from Gray’s, who discussed the growing sector of artists who work from a homestudio- workshop-gallery. Then Sue Fairburn, also a lecturer at Gray’s, presented her work in relation to developing creative rural entrepreneurship via art-based projects.
Joan Scott and Anne Hill, from UWS, presented their findings from a research project, ‘Knowledge into business’, which provided bespoke advice to small businesses in a remote rural region of south-west Scotland. Dr Pieter Seuneke from Holland presented a paper on the‘Learning behaviour of farmers in Dutch multifunctional agriculture’. Cathie Wright, a lecturer at Heriot-Watt University, presented work on ‘The effects of online networking on market diversification for rural small firms’ and Professor Mike Danson, a presentation on ‘Renewable energy, asset-based management and communities’.
On day two, the conference continued with a presentation by Graham Grant, a lecturer at RGU’s Centre for Entrepreneurship and Dr Rob Smith on ‘Entrepreneurship, rurality and class’. They highlighted the emerging phenomenon of upperclass engagement with entrepreneurship and the enterprise culture. Professor Gerard McElwee from Nottingham Trent University discussed the often hidden issue of illegal rural entrepreneurship, illustrating this via a case study on an illegal still in Boston, Lincolnshire. Claire Markham, a doctoral student from Lincoln University, presented the findings of her research into village entrepreneurship in Lincolnshire and Anne Smith, a lecturer from Glasgow Caledonian University, presented work on entrepreneurship in the Scottish agriculture sector.
The conference culminated in a session on rural enterprise in the regions with a paper by Drs Artur Steinerowski and Jane Atterton from the Scottish Agricultural College on the role of private sector enterprises. Professor Mike Danson presented the results of a study into ‘Understanding the literature on community assets’ while Dr Gary Bosworth presented the concluding session on interpreting rurality from a multi-disciplinary perspective.
Throughout the conference there was discussion on rural business start-ups, entrepreneurial networking and farm-based entrepreneurship in rural areas, concentrating on challenges and opportunities, particularly in relation to issues such as worsening multiple deprivations with an ageing, under qualified, lower paid and declining population; continuity and change in the rural; contrasts, comparisons and continuity; elements of rural entrepreneurship and enterprise; the nature and practices of rural entrepreneurs; rural entrepreneurship in different countries and contexts; policies and their implications for rural entrepreneurs; understanding and conceptualising the rural; and what is the rural in rural entrepreneurship?
The Rural Entrepreneurship Conference was founded in 2002 by Professor David Deakins, then of Paisley University, who recognised that rural entrepreneurship was an expanding paradigm of interest in relation to rural development.
Significant advances have been made in rural entrepreneurship in the last ten years, with the annual conference playing a key role in fostering the developments. It has grown from being a Scottish affair to attracting interest from an international audience, providing a forum for the dissemination of research findings, analysis and good practice. The conference is now jointly organised by a committee led by Dr Geoff Whittham from the University of the West of Scotland.
The conference is the premier networking event for rural entrepreneurship and part of its charm and character is that it has remained a relatively small affair, characterised by its informality and its friendliness. It could be said to have taken on the quiet character of its founder, David Deakins. It continues to attract a core group of regular delegates.
In the ten years since its inception, the conference has acted as a catalyst for developing a critical mass in the subject with over 250 conference papers presented. The REC has played a part in fostering these developments in rural entrepreneurship. We look forward to the next ten years.