Entrepreneurship is the topic on everyone’s lips at the moment, as the 2016 Oxford Farming Conference launches its report titled: “Entrepreneurship: A kiss of life for the UK farming sector” and Agri-Tech East welcomes applications to its GROW business plan competition.
GROW is the UK’s only national agri-tech business plan competition and it aims to find and support entrepreneurs bringing new ideas from concept to commercial reality.
We spend a lot of time thinking how to help farmers de-risk the adoption of a new product, technique or service. Providing a forum for people to exchange ideas and experiences is one way we try to help; another way is understanding the drivers and motivations for farmers to adopt new innovations.
There is a list in the OFC report of the advantages to farmers of a more entrepreneurial approach: remaining profitable, avoiding destruction, seizing opportunities, competing with larger firms, and growing the business. While the report also reveals that farming is one of the UK’s less entrepreneurial sectors, the good news is that entrepreneurship can, to an extent, be learned.
There are tools, techniques and mind-sets that can be adopted to help with the entrepreneurial attitude. For this reason we launched GROW in 2014 and five entrepreneurs were featured in the final last June. (You can read their stories here).
The idea behind GROW is to help find new agri-entrepreneurs, support them, help them make their business idea a reality, and to attract the interest of agri- investors looking for new entrepreneurs and ideas. To help put some practical flesh on the entrepreneurial bones we also offer applicants an experienced mentor to help them hone their idea into a business plan.
Myths about farm entrepreneurship
Last year’s competition debunked a number of myths we hear about farm entrepreneurship.
The first is that only large farm businesses have the resources and capacity to be innovative and entrepreneurial. Some of the GROW applications were from farmers on relatively small holdings with new ideas to make their business (and those of others) more productive, profitable, or environmentally sustainable. The OFC report also revealed that levels of success are not proportional to the available resources.
The second myth is that entrepreneurship is the domain of the younger generation. Again, not true – the age range of our competition applicants spanned several decades.
The final and most damning myth is that farmers are risk averse and slow to adapt to change. Keen to de-risk a new idea, yes, careful to think through the potential return on investment, yes, but the farmers in our network are constantly looking for better ways to do things, using sound research and understanding systems, and we saw a number of these apply to GROW last year.
The OFC report features some key issues facing entrepreneurship in agriculture:
- Entrepreneurs are not necessarily high risk takers but are prepared to try something new and enter an unknown territory. So, whilst taking a step into the unknown arena, they often do so having made sufficient checks to reduce all business risks to a minimum. Market research, testing markets or new products and even sharing risks with others are examples of lowering risks.
- Truly entrepreneurial people, when they hit a failure of some kind, are quick to pick themselves back up and try again. People with these characteristics will sooner or later be likely to succeed.
- Who wants to hear the story of an un-entrepreneurial entrepreneur? We love success stories, and so we admire those who try and succeed. Those who try but fail are largely ignored.
- Few people who have tried something unsuccessfully would be as happy to have their story told as those who have been successful at it. If you recognise yourself as an entrepreneur, and you have an idea for a new product, service or practice, then do consider applying to GROW.
We’ll be looking for an expression of interest by 7th March and a final application by 29th April, with the final on June 22nd. Let’s make the UK the global go-to place for agri-entrepreneurship and hope to see a future OFC report celebrating all that is entrepreneurial about agriculture!