January 22, 2014

Encouraging entrepreneurial thinking in rural communities

Entrepreneurial thinking can strengthen rural businesses and reinvigorate entire communities. Dr Yasmin Chalmers, Director of Marcus Oldham College’s Centre for the Study of Rural Australia, explains how the EntruBIZ program is helping people to think in an entrepreneurial way.

Farm consolidation, globalisation of new technologies and different ways of doing business are all having an impact on Australia’s rural communities. For those with an entrepreneurial mindset, the changes signal opportunity rather than the threat of decline.

“In the rural sector, the ability to identify, create and develop new opportunities is fundamental to building sustainable businesses and making the most of emerging markets,” says Dr Yasmin Chalmers, Director of the Centre for the Study of Rural Australia at Marcus Oldham College. “We designed the EntruBIZ program to encourage farmers and other business owners to think in a more entrepreneurial way.”

The EntruBIZ program is aimed at the rejuvenation of rural regions through a focus on entrepreneurship. The program gives individuals the opportunity to develop their entrepreneurial skills and business ideas with professional guidance and direction.

The program’s key focuses include:

  • Inspiring new entrepreneurs
  • Developing participants’ business skills
  • Fostering the development of collaborative peer networks
  • Collecting research and disseminating information

Some of the people who approach EntruBIZ have a business idea but don’t know how to get started. Others have reached a plateau in their business and are unsure of what to do next.

“Our Rural Entrepreneur Developers (REDs) can help them build the confidence they need to explore new opportunities in their business,” says Dr Chalmers. “They start by assessing their technical, management and entrepreneurial skills and put them in touch with people who can help them strengthen any weaknesses and develop specific areas of expertise. They also help them to develop an action plan and refine the goals that will take them on to the next entrepreneurial level.”

In rural areas, entrepreneurial thinking can extend through the whole community. “There may be a number of people doing similar things who could take their businesses further if they worked together,” says Dr Chalmers. “Encouraging the entire community and empowering people to work together will often make economic sense.”

An example is a group of fruit growers in the Appalachian region of America who decided to pool their resources and invest in a facility where they could all bottle and preserve their produce. This has grown into a thriving business where individual growers are selling their products into different markets across the country but all of the profits are still coming back to the same community. It has reinvigorated the whole region, creating jobs in everything from processing, administration and marketing to printing labels for the bottles and jars. The area also attracts tourists who are now sampling the local produce.

“This is one approach we’re going to look at more closely for Bairnsdale because it has The East Gippsland Food Cluster and is a popular tourist destination,” says Dr Chalmers.

EntruBIZ is also helping to inspire the next generation of business owners. “This year we’ll be running a school-based program with students in years 10, 11 and 12,” she continues. “Our aim is to encourage entrepreneurial thinking and also to introduce them to the practicalities of starting a business.”

Whilst EntruBIZ was launched to support rural entrepreneurs in Victoria’s Greater Shepparton and East Gippsland regions, Dr Chalmers is keen to discuss options for collaborating with potential entrepreneurs in other rural regions to coordinate similar programs. “Anyone who is interested should contact me,” she says. “Developing new ideas and adapting to change is what will help today’s good businesses to stay profitable into the future and we’re committed to supporting those processes wherever we can.”

Find out more about EntruBIZ

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