On a sunny Monday afternoon fifty representatives from ten countries around Europe gathered in Belfast to launch the iEER learning camp on entrepreneurship in outlying areas.  The first part of the camp was spent in Northern Ireland, where participants from regional governments and business support agencies were introduced to the many ways the region supports entrepreneurs. For the second part of the camp representatives traveled across the island to County Kerry in Ireland, where iEER partner Institute of Technology Tralee showed how having ambition and a vision boost entrepreneurship in an outlying area.

Entrepreneurship is not comfortable

”Entrepreneurship is not comfortable” summarized Dr. Conor Patterson from the Newry & Mourne Co-Operative and Enterprise Agency. Though not comfortable, entrepreneurship can be a powerful driver for change, as exemplified by the experience in Newry, where locals have gotten together to launch business support initiatives such as the Newry Credit Union.  Despite the country’s tumultuous past, Northern Ireland’s startup ecosystem and culture is growing at a fast pace. Ulster University recently launched its first student entrepreneurship society, and initiatives such as Young Enterprise NI are doing crucial work in educating young people about the possibilities of entrepreneurship. The Titanic Belfast exhibition center shows how a region can draw on its rich cultural heritage to create infrastructure projects which serve as tourist attractions while supporting business growth activities at the same time.

There is a long tradition of family entrepreneurship in Northern Ireland.  The sense of community and the notion of giving back are clearly visible in the country and demonstrate some of the opportunities available to entrepreneurs in outlying areas.  Entrepreneurs in rural areas can often count on strong support from their communities, and in order to succeed they have to be entrepreneurial in nature to create the opportunities their big city peers take for granted. On the other hand, connectivity and especially the lack of fast-speed broadband access are key challenges for business creation and sustainability in remote locations.  Another challenge is finding specialized talent and building successful teams. 

During the second part of the learning camp iEER partner Institute of Technology Tralee in Country Kerry demonstrated to learning camp participants how organizations in rural areas can tackle these challenges. IT Tralee collaborates closely with industries in the region and tracks business trends to make sure their students have the skills companies need.  County Kerry is embedding entrepreneurship education into the curriculum of children from a young age to help them develop an entrepreneurial mindset. An example of this is the Kerry LEO Region Student Enterprise Showcase and Awards which gives students the task of setting up a mini-business for a few months to unleash their entrepreneurial potential.

As in Northern Ireland, a strong sense of community is clearly visible in Kerry, where local actors have come up with innovative and ambitious ways to boost entrepreneurship in the region. Currently on its fourth year, the Kerry Enterprise Month highlights and raises awareness on the many enterprise activities in the region. The Cantillon Conference, organized annually in the town of Tralee, brings world-class speakers to the region to Ireland’s only one-day fintech forum. The conference builds networks across regions and brings new ways of thinking to a remote area of Ireland, all crucial elements in business creation. Initiatives such as the Cantillon conference show how aiming high and having ambition go a long way in building successful entrepreneurial ecosystems no matter the location.