The below signatories of this manifesto make a call for action to all private and public actors in the rural innovation ecosystem to implement the specific measures listed below to build a true Rural European Innovation Area.
The general economic recession of 2007 to 2010 particularly affected rural communities. The recovery in the cities was based on the technology and innovation. However, these trends have had a strong negative implant on rural communities. Many industries traditionally associated to rural areas are increasingly being automated and rural workers, usually with low technology skills, are being left behind. These trends, combined with a sharp decline of rural entrepreneurship, are creating a tremendous innovation gap between rural areas and urban areas.
Recovery from the pandemic in cities will also be rely on the use of technology and innovation. Rural communities face a certain risk to experience a deterioration of their social and economic situation unless determined actions are taken in partnerships between public, private and philanthropic players in Europe.
Strong innovation ecosystems that bring together smart villages, startup villages, Local Action Groups, and public and private players are the only opportunity to allow the rural communities to thrive again. Innovation ecosystems can provide highly skilled jobs in technology areas and a new future for the rural communities. The development of rural innovation ecosystems will allow rural communities to benefit from the third wave (IT and biotech startups) and fourth wave (deep-tech startups) of innovation creating high quality jobs in rural areas.
We need new distribution models for location agnostic employment. This would directly address the need to create jobs locally that will stimulate local economic activity including increasing occupancy rates in coworking spaces.
We believe that the recommendations listed below are essential in order to ensure post-pandemic recovery and the green and digital transitions. These recommendations will facilitate the development of emerging trends such as: telecommuting, smart villages, startup villages and Rural Outsourcing.
They will have a positive impact on all business activities carried out in rural areas, wether related to the primary sector (agriculture, livestock, forestry, aquaculture, fisheries), the industrial sector or services, as well as businesses based on intangible assets, such as IT-intense startups.
Each recommendation targets a concrete goal to be achieved in the short term and describes a first action that should be carried out at the European level. These actions should be complemented by other actions to be organised at local level by the local actors, including local public authorities, local action groups and other organised local groups of stakeholders interested in the development of the innovation capacity of rural areas. The suggested action in each recommendation does not preclude the development of other actions targeting the same goal of the recommendation.
We invite everybody concerned about the development of rural areas to join this manifesto and to bring it to the attention of the decision-makers at municipal, provincial/departmental, regional, national or European level.
From the combined experience of dozens of Europeans who were fortunate enough to imagine, build and grow successful innovative businesses – businesses that created thousands of jobs – in rural communities, we have distilled 17 actions which, taken together, can give Rural Communities the best chance of future success. We now call on entrepreneurs, investors, advisors and other public and private stakeholders across the continent to engage in this dialogue and share their views on the manifesto to help us move towards the adoption of this unique innovation growth plan for the EU. Our recommendations are:
Theme 1. Skills and talent
Inhabitants living in rural areas need to be trained in the latest technologies so that they can incorporate them into their businesses or be ready to set up new innovative businesses. Strong elementary and secondary education in digital and innovative-related subjects is needed to ensure that students are ready to set up their own company or work for innovation companies without moving from their rural communities.
1. Provide State of the Art Training in the latest technologies and innovation
These resources should be made available to all inhabitants of rural areas in the domains in which they wish to get trained. Support services, such as apprenticeship programmes and shared workspaces, are also important notably in the more deprived rural communities.
2. Launch specific Massive Open Online Courses
As the pandemic has shown, it is possible to obtain high quality training in the most advanced domains using online means. MOOCs should be launched in all the official languages of the European Union.
3. Establish rural accelerators and incubators
The role of accelerators or incubators is also important to provide mentorship, access to expertise and connections to support rural businesses to succeed. Rural accelerators could be established in partnership with the nearby startup community and universities.
Theme 2. Culture and Mindset Shift
Initiate a mindset shift across Europe in terms of how rural communities are perceived as places for innovation. Our culture celebrates celebrities and athletes, musicians, actors and entrepreneurs who are usually associated to urban areas. Rural innovators who make a real impact on people’s livelihood need to be celebrated too and become role models for students. We need everyone to get excited about rural and entrepreneurship. It means democratizing the tools and processes of creating new businesses and offering them to anyone with the courage and willingness to start a business in a rural community.
4. Harness the power of Media to develop Role models
TV channels, radios, journalist, social networks and all kind of media outlets are encouraged to have dedicated time for innovators who are located in rural areas and that are being successful. It would include creating success stories with the successes that will motivate students and businesses in rural communities.
5. Set up a Rural Innovation Map
The map will allow anyone – from journalists to investors – to find success stories of innovative businesses in rural area. This map will promote the path of rural entrepreneurship and innovation as a credible career alternative while celebrating successful rural business builders as heroes.
Theme 3. Connecting innovation actors
Networking of rural innovation players is the key to the success of any rural innovation ecosystem. On the one hand, entrepreneurs and innovators require to share experiences among themselves and support one another.
These mechanisms should allow startups located in the same rural community or in the surrounding area, as well as businesses interested in rural outsourcing, to have access to these pools of talent.
6. Establish European and local Rural Innovation Networks of similarly minded rural innovation ecosystems builders
Ecosystems builders in different rural innovation communities, from Local Action Groups to Startup Villages developers, need to share experiences and programmes related to training and providing services to innovators in rural communities.
7. Establish online platforms to create dense networks of innovation players
Rural Innovation Communities require mechanisms to connect skilled workers to startups or businesses that require their services, either to work at a rural startup, telecommuting or rural outsourcing.
8. Provide access to shared physical space for remote workers and startup
Remote workers and startups in rural areas need access to shared workspaces (e.g., coworking spaces, innovation hubs). These spaces allow young professional to have social relations with like-minded people. They also provide visibility to innovation activities done in the rural community.
9. Set up European/national job boards
These will allow any business to access qualified people located in rural areas. In order to ensure that qualified people stay in the rural community, once they are trained with the latest technologies, it is necessary to provide mechanisms to ensure visibility to them.
Theme 4. Attractive work-life environment for young professionals
Innovation workers show strong fondness for high quality of life that combines access to nature, quality workspaces, and affordable and attractive houses. The relocation of young professionals to rural areas will provide a push for local shops and businesses by becoming new customers of their products and services. Moreover, it will also provide a new future for areas that were at risk of depopulation by increasing the number of children in the schools and bringing live to almost empty villages.
10. Promote tax incentives for entrepreneurs
Rural property and other business related taxes for businesses and for investors in rural businesses should be considered as an element of programmes to develop rural innovation ecosystems. Examples like the Rural Job Tax Credit Program offers an incentive for eligible businesses located within Qualified Rural Areas to create new jobs. Just as research-related tax benefits are defined to de-risk the most basic research, rural innovation-related tax benefits should be also considered to launch new innovation ecosystems in the most deprived rural communities due to the high risk assumed by the entrepreneur in those areas.
11. Foster houses for young professionals in rural areas
While there is plenty of well-furnished houses empty during 11 months per year in rural areas, there are very few well-furnished houses in rural areas that could be considered by young professionals to move to live there. Renovation of houses should be supported to be rented or purchased by new professionals who are committed to set up their family and business in the rural community.
12. Adapt Urbanism norms to rural specificities
Regulations in rural areas are usually a copy cut of regulations in large cities. Rural community authorities should provide flexibility in the enforcement of local regulations, to attract innovators, especially in the early stages of building an innovation ecosystems.
13. Comprehend broadband connectivity as a basis service
Internet infrastructure should be considered as a baseline service, similarly to water and electricity were in the past century. Telecommuting and startups require fast, affordable and reliable Internet access that can only be provided by broadband, notably finer one. All rural communities that apply to create a rural innovation ecosystem with a credible plan should be immediately receive the necessary support to get Fiber to the village. In a maximum on 3 to 6 months.
14. Organized cultural and outdoor entertainment activities
A village that provides the right combination of residential, commercial and entertainment options is essential to attract and retain innovation workers.
Rural innovation communities are invited to organize cultural and outdoor activities to make easier for ‘newcomers’ to enjoy the nature surrounding the village (those cosy areas in the nearby hills or valley, cycling routes, places with magnificent views).
Theme 5. Thought leadership – monitoring
For these recommendations to succeed, it is important that public authorities and private leaders provide thought leadership..
15. Appoint a Chief Rural Innovation Officer (CRIO) in every region and Member State
The impact of appointing a rural innovation champion per Member State and region will be particularly strong in promoting the benefits of inclusive innovation ecosystems in rural areas. A permanent, full-time CRIO will help ensure that rural innovation has an impact on every European region and will open up the government to more transparency and greater collaboration with its constituents in rural areas.
16. Provide public recognition to local innovation champions
Publicly recognize support received for the development of rural innovation ecosystems to successfully engaged entrepreneurs and community-linked business or public leaders. High Education Institutions should also be publicly recognized because of they are important sources of expertise, funding, connections, and programming. Colleges and universities bring access to talent as well as specific entrepreneurship programming and other resources that make them key partners.
17. Establish a European Rural Innovation Center
It will have the double role of providing a One Stop Shop for all European, national and regional initiatives in the area of rural innovation, and for the monitoring of these actions with clear success indicators allowing for an adjustment of actions or the launch of new actions. This Center will also monitor the progress made on the recommendations included in this Manifesto and share best practices of actions taken in Europe at European or local level.
Pledge of support for the Manifesto
Our hope is to reflect the views and perspectives of as many rural entrepreneurs, investors, advisors and other key figures within the rural innovation ecosystem across Europe. This will ensure that the proposals are as robust and practical as possible. We encourage as many pledge registrations and expressions of support as possible by June 30, 2021.
Based on these responses, we will work closely with the European Commission to develop options for developing these proposals ahead of a series of upcoming meetings designed to set policy priorities in the preparation for the new European Innovation Area that will also include rural communities.
We look forward to your support.
For more information, please visit Rural European Innovation Area website: https://reina.startupole.eu
Who’s who in the Rural European Innovation Area
We are an independent group of passionate entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders that believe in the capacity of rural communities to become innovation-driven engines of growth and job creation.
We are a community opened to any innovation practitioner (entrepreneur, investor, advisor, public authority, private stakeholder, university) who is willing to push forward the recommendations included in this manifesto.
Current members of the Community as June 2021 (an updated list of members can be found at the website of REINA: https://reina.startupole.eu/).