Ireland’s rural regions need ‘on-the-ground’ support to spawn more entrepreneurs, prof claims

10 Oct 2013

Prof Suzi Jarvis, founding director, Innovation Academy at University College Dublin

“Ireland is still a rural country with 72pc of our population living predominantly in rural regions as compared to the EU average of 22pc – or 7pc for Switzerland,” said Prof Suzi Jarvis, who heads up the Innovation Academy at University College Dublin (UCD). She was speaking at the launch of a new entrepreneurship programme that will roll out in Galway, Clonmel, Mullingar and Letterkenny between 2013 and 2014.

The first Rural Entrepreneurship Programme started in Galway in September. The Clonmel, Cp Tipperary, one will begin on 5 November.

Ahead of this particular programme, an information day will take place in the Park Hotel, Clonmel, on 29 October. The Mullingar, Co Westmeath, and Letterkenny, Co Donegal, programmes will swing into action in early 2014.

Each of the programmes will be open to Springboard applicants.

We need to act fast to pull the regions out of unemployment – Innovation Academy

If we are to pull Ireland out of recession faster, and also reduce the brain drain leaving the country to seek out work, then we now need to home in on the regions, according to Jarvis.

She said we need to provide ‘on the ground’ supports for people in rural communities. This is so they can create ideas and spot opportunities to develop enterprises.

The positive spin-offs could be new job creation at the local level, taking people off the dole, and generating local wealth that feeds back into rural economies.

Jarvis, who is the founding director of the Innovation Academy, then referenced the OECD.

The OECD, it appears, thinks Ireland spends a significant amount of money on labour market policies by “international standards”, but makes the point that most of this money goes on passive policies – such as income support – rather than active policies that try to get people into or back into the labour market.  

“We are addressing this challenge by facilitating those in rural areas to take a fresh look at their resources and examine how they can best harness them,” said Jarvis.

Turning to the UK, she said that 31pc of farm enterprises there have managed to diversify into other areas while in Ireland it is only 2pc.  

According to Jarvis, there are ‘significant’ untapped resources in rural communities that have the potential to deliver jobs.

The challenge, though, is that Ireland now needs to look at how to successfully integrate entrepreneurial education into these communities and understand the challenges facing potential and aspiring entrepreneurs.  

This is why the Innovation Academy UCD is taking the programme into the local communities it thinks will benefit most from it, she said

When this programme will happen in the regions – 18-week stint

The Rural Entrepreneurship Programme will run over 18 weeks. Among the mentors who will be lending their expertise will be Roscommon entrepreneur Brendan Allen of Castlemine Farm and Galway’s Ronan Byrne of The Friendly Farmer.

Both of these individuals have strived to transform their own experiences of starting a rural enterprise into the design of an action-based learning programme.  

They will be mentoring course participants.  

Those who complete the course will get a university certificate in rural entrepreneurship from UCD.  

There will be no exams involved. Instead, the Innovation Academy said people will learn by ‘doing’, working in teams to develop key entrepreneurial skills.

More information is available on online.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic