Small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) located in rural areas face a number of challenges linked to the intrinsic characteristics of rural economies. For example:
- Physical infrastructure like broadband and transport links are often less developed compared to urban areas.
- Due to the lower population density, access to a skilled and specialised workforce is often limited.
- Likewise, the challenges of accessing research and innovation resources and finance and markets increase with the distance from urban centres.
The partners of the Interreg Europe RATIO project aim to reinforce the innovation culture and attractiveness of their regions and to strengthen the innovation capacities of rural-based SMEs to help them face their development challenges.
One of the good practices identified in the project, presented by the partner Cork Chamber, highlights how new economic ecosystems can be created in rural areas by combining entrepreneurial spirit supported by modern digital infrastructures.
The Ludgate Hub
Skibbereen is a small town with less than 3 000 people, located 80 km from Cork City. In 2016, the Ludgate Hub opened here as a not-for-profit bottom-up community initiative. The idea for the hub first emerged in 2014, during the yearly West Cork Forum for generating job-creation ideas. “A number of business people with links to West Cork came together to see how they could reverse the brain drain from West Cork, develop a sustainable community in the region and encourage the return of the diaspora”, says Adrienne Harrington, CEO of the Hub.
Around the same time, the fibre broadband provider SIRO decided to roll out 1GB connectivity to 50 pilot towns in Ireland. Although not included on the original list of towns, Skibbereen was put on the list thanks to the Ludgate Hub’s momentum and the community’s embrace of digitalisation and its vision for enhancing economic growth in rural communities.
The purpose of the Hub is to capture the potential of Skibbereen and the surrounding communities by offering a creative co-working space, excellent broadband infrastructure and providing the services of a digital entrepreneurship incubator. These include mentoring for start-ups by experienced and well-connected business people drawn from the board members, and an entrepreneurial network with invited guest-speakers sharing their experiences.
Thanks to the Hub, this rural area has become more attractive to both people and digitally enabled businesses like web developers, designers and online services. More than 250 people visit the hub every month and it has already facilitated the creation of 100 direct jobs and 140 indirect jobs. In addition,15 new Hub members have permanently located to West Cork with their families.
The Ludgate Hub is still very community-oriented and addresses the needs of the rural community, Adrienne Harrington explains: “We have developed a strong partnership with University College Cork, working together with the local second level school to bring the digital agenda to the school syllabus. In the past year, we have run a Coding Week for Girls in three local schools, supported the school in developing a coding module for Transition Year Students and run a Hackathon for students. We have also supported CoderDojo, a free, volunteer-led, community-based computer programming clubs for young people.”
Originally, the Ludgate Hub was primarily funded by board members and corporate sponsorships, only 3% was public funding. However, recently EUR 2 million was made available under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund, operated by Enterprise Ireland. “The funding will be used to establish a Business Development Unit to attract additional companies to West Cork, and provide additional resources to support our existing and new start-ups and rollout out our digital schools programme across all schools in West Cork”, says Adrienne Harrington.
“Ludgate Hub” can be found in the Policy Learning Platform Good Practice database
Image credit: Photo by Pixabay from Pexels
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