Rural entrepreneurs who believe in the bioeconomy need a helping hand. Access to funding, skilled employees and innovation support networks are just some of the challenges they face in a market dominated by large actors. They also live in regions at a turning point brought about by the likes of global competition, automation, changing markets, environmental challenges… and even COVID-19. “Now is the time to rethink our approach to rural development and kick-start a new dynamism and perspective,” says Justin Casimir, project leader at the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE). Well aware of the current situation of Europe’s rural regions, Casimir and his partners under the EU-funded RUBIZMO (Replicable business models for modern rural economies) project choose to see opportunity. So how do you find light at the end of the tunnel? RUBIZMO’s answer is simple: nurturing a few successful pioneers to lead the way by example. “Many citizens, from both urban and rural areas are thinking about starting their own business in rural areas. They want to get closer to nature and in line with their values. RUBIZMO helps them take this step with more information and confidence, thanks to the Virtual Library: a tool providing a snapshot of different types of successful businesses,” explains Casimir.
Tools for entrepreneurs and their supporters
Easily accessible by anyone with basic IT skills, the Virtual Library essentially provides inspiration. We could mention, for instance, Fiusis in Italy. In 2007, the company initiated the construction of a plant using local virgin wood pruning to create sustainable heat and electricity. In another sector, Blue Lobster inspires with a new digital marketplace enabling local fishermen to sell their fish directly to their customers. The ‘Airbnb of the fishing industry’, as Casimir likes to call it. But the Virtual Library is not the only tool created by RUBIZMO. The team also devised a Transformation Support Tool, which guides entrepreneurs in shaping their own business model. The tool highlights the main hurdles to overcome and can be used directly by the entrepreneurs, although it’s better to use it alongside support from a business advisor. “We have two other tools for supportive bodies. The business environment guidelines will guide local, regional and national public agencies or policymakers on how to align their local business environment with the requirements of different types of business models. This tool is still under development and will be implemented in the form of participative workshops. For example, it will provide a guideline on how to increase the capacity to attract funds for innovative and emerging business models in rural areas,” Casimir adds. But what about the final tool? “It’s the Cooperation Toolkit. It offers a comprehensive mapping of existing networks in the food, bio-based and ecosystem services value chains and provides guidance to develop existing networks and create new ones.” Perhaps one of RUBIZMO’s main innovations lies in its fresh look at rural regions, not just focused on agriculture, but examining three interlinked sectors: food, bio-based value chains and ecosystem services. The RUBIZMO team is still hard at work to provide insights, free access to resources and training tools that will at least play a small part in the success of future rural entrepreneurs. In the long run, Casimir hopes that the project will inspire them through the Virtual Library examples while engaging business advisors, regions and other actors in supporting the development of innovative businesses in rural areas. Is this the beginning of a whole new kind of rural dynamism? Only time will tell.
RUBIZMO, entrepreneurship, bioeconomy, rural regions, rural development, business, food, value chains, ecosystem services, Virtual Library