19-22 September, 2023
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GEC 2023: Regional Innovation

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Entrepreneurship offers opportunities for everyone, but rural and regional communities face distinct challenges such as infrastructure, workforce, isolation, and market access. What can drive meaningful change for the large population living in remote areas?
Crop field under rainbow and cloudy skies at daytime
Photo by James Wheeler

The promise of entrepreneurship is that anyone can give it a go. 

But compared to their urban peers, rural and regional communities face unique challenges of infrastructure, workforce, isolation and access to markets.

So what will help make real change for nearly half the world’s population living in regional and remote locations? 

According to GEC 2023 speaker and Queensland Chief Entrepreneur, Julia Spicer, along with the challenges unique to non-urban areas come equally unique opportunities. 

“There are so many opportunities for the regions. I genuinely think that the regions have the answers to the world’s problems. We just need the opportunity to be able to solve them. We are inherently problem solvers because we’ve had to be,” Spicer said.

Internet hotspots still a hot topic

Nearly all of the world’s urban areas are covered by mobile broadband networks. But connectivity gaps are particularly pronounced when it comes to regional, rural and remote areas. 

In the world’s least developed countries 17 per cent of the rural population live in areas with no mobile coverage at all, and 19 per cent of the rural population is covered by only a 2G network. The gap between urban and rural households accessing the internet at home is also stark, with nearly twice as many urban homes connected. 

Connectivity is essential for entrepreneurship and for education, and lack of access to the internet creates systemic disadvantage.  According to Jo Palmer, Founder and MD at Pointer Remote and Member of NSW Council for Women’s Economic Opportunity, getting this right can lead to significant upsides.  

“The tyranny of distance is always an issue with attracting and retaining talent, but there is also a huge opportunity to leverage remote work if they’ve got the right systems and processes in place,” said Palmer.

“The biggest challenge for entrepreneurship in rural Australia is connection and connectivity. There are really interesting opportunities coming out of innovators in rural areas that are helping with that connection piece.”

Language and measurement matter 

Lack of shared understanding of language and measurement can be a barrier to participation in and support for entrepreneurial activities outside of cities.

Tina Metzer, Vice-President of the US National Center for Resource Development, said the entrepreneurship ‘language barrier’ can obscure opportunity.

“The language barrier is not just in different countries or trying to understand my accent. It’s, ‘I’m not an entrepreneur. I’m not techy. I’m a farmer. I invented this water thing.’ I think that language is extremely important,” Metzer said.

Just as language needs to be reflective of the communities it serves, so too does the data used to measure success. Using a common measure like ‘population growth’ will have vastly different implications depending on the location.

While there are general approaches and principles that are shared, the application of those approaches needs to accommodate the diversity across geographies, population sizes, and types of regions.

“Australia is broken into four geographic areas: metro, regional, rural, and remote. They all need different things. It’s virtually impossible to deal with the level of diversity using national-level data sets. We need to be having much better conversations about how we measure,” said Palmer.

Rethinking investment and the role of government

Governments are often seen as playing a key role in supporting rural and regional entrepreneurship.

The challenge is balancing this role with community ownership and agency to best support vibrant, sustainable communities.

“We have wealth in the regions. We need to look at how we can unlock that differently. We could do joint ventures amongst ourselves. We could set up some trusts and syndicate investment groups to support the ‘lighthouses’ in our communities,” said Spicer.

“We have those resources and we are already used to investing. We’re just not necessarily used to investing in individuals or startups.”

Local ownership of a community vision is necessary to fully leverage support from agencies such as the government, and to create plans that are sustainable, according to Metzer.

“You need the community around you. Not only the support, but you need to know what everyone else is doing,” Metzer said.

“That regional approach and ecosystem building leads to sustainability. You can then have a better chance with government and other larger support areas.” This discussion was part of a series of ‘Road to GEC’ virtual events. Want to help shape the conversation in your sector? Register now, and transform your world.

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