Starting or growing a business can be challenging, but in rural areas, new enterprises can face additional difficulties, such as poor transport links and digital connectivity. GrowBiz provides free local support and opportunities for rural businesses – with a personal touch – across Scotland.
Through its people-centred, bottom-up and localised approach, GrowBiz aims to create and support a sustainable rural economy by increasing employment, improving skills and strengthening local supply chains.
The project uses a ‘relational’ model of engagement – building long term relationships to encourage the creation of networks to share knowledge and work together in the local area and beyond. There is a focus on legacy – equipping small business owners with the knowledge, skills, networks and tools to be successful without dependency.
The project began in Perthshire in 2007, as a pilot to set up a community-led way of supporting businesses. A volunteer board was formed from members of the local community, and informal support sessions were arranged to help entrepreneurs with their business ideas. More recently, a business mentoring programme has been developed, with more than 70 volunteer mentors matched with mentee business owners. This programme is the only business mentoring project in Scotland which has been awarded the Scottish Mentoring Network’s quality standard.
In a three year period to October 2019, with LEADER funding support, GrowBiz worked with more than 1,000 individuals, small businesses and social enterprises, and held almost 300 events with just under 4,000 attendees. Around a third of GrowBiz’s clients were pre-start up, or ready to start a new business.
“Through a combination of 1-1 support, peer learning, mentoring and networking, many of our clients have gone on to start new businesses, as well as jobs, training, education and volunteering opportunities. And during the current COVID-19 crisis, we’ve been assisting a wide range of rural businesses to survive and recover.”
Jackie Brierton, CEO
GrowBiz has developed a range of initiatives in response to the COVID-19 crisis, and the effects this has had on micro-enterprises and self-employed people in rural areas. A key element of this is the Rural Micro-Enterprise Recovery Fund.
Rather than simply providing grants to microenterprises, the Rural Micro-Enterprise Recovery Fund is based on a 50:50 principle – 50% of the grant will go to the applicant business, and 50% to the rural business(es) providing the services required. This community wealth building approach will help as many businesses as possible, and keep money circulating within rural communities.
Applicants will also receive free support and advice from GrowBiz and its partners in the enterprise eco-system, and will register on the Rural Enterprise Directory Scotland (REDS). REDS will provide a national online directory of rural micro-enterprises – searchable by sector and geography – linked to their websites and social media, making it easier to find and use localised suppliers, businesses and traders.