This week sees the fourth guest post we have featured on our blog, Dr Robert Newbery, an Associate Professor in Entrepreneurship and Development at Plymouth University who has worked extensively in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. He has founded and run a number of entrepreneurial businesses. He has a PhD, an MSc, MBA and BSc. and is a member of the Institute of Small Business & Enterprise, and the Regional Studies Association.
Dr Robert Newbery is the deputy Director of the Service and Enterprise Research Centre and pursues research in various areas, including: rural entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial well-being, and entrepreneurial education in developing contexts. He is currently leading a team with Plymouth University, Duchy College and the Farm Shop Trust in Kenya supporting a large Comic Relief project, where Graduate intern Amber Strong is currently on a six week work placement.
- What motivated you to pursue a career in Entrepreneurship and Education?
It pursued me! I started off as an engineer and worked internationally for a few years and got to the point where I wanted to move from senior technology guy to project manager. In the company I was in, this meant I needed an MBA. So I came back to the UK and got my MBA. One module in particular was fascinating to me, Small Business Management. As a result I decided not to re-join my company but rather to start a consultancy up with some of my fellow students. This was a case of trying out our new management skills and we quickly found out that a new business is incredibly hard to establish. After a few years of trying out a number of business models, we ended doing freelance research work and I found this really interesting. A funded PhD scholarship was advertised to conduct research into rural micro-business at Newcastle University and I jumped at the chance.
My current role as a lecturer in Entrepreneurship at Plymouth University’s Futures Entrepreneurship Centre gives me the flexibility to behave as an academic entrepreneur where I can discover and implement interesting ideas that have a real impact on students and society. It’s great fun!
- What are the challenges for rural entrepreneurship?
The rural setting presents a complex context to explore various entrepreneurial phenomena. Issues often relate to peripherality and the constraints imposed by geography. Much general theory is by default based within an urban context and when explored with a different set of structural dimensions new insights can be gained. For instance, farming has long been regarded as the key industry within rural areas, but given the low number of farming start-ups it is not considered to be an entrepreneurial industry. However contemporary research shows that farmers can be very entrepreneurial and indeed, from a policy perspective, are encouraged to be in order to cope with decreasing subsidies. Of particular interest to me is that entrepreneurship is currently being actively promoted to farmers in developing countries as a route out of poverty.
- One project you are particularly involved in is with Comic Relief in Kenya, what were the motivating factors in getting involved with this?
Whilst often focused on the uneven development of rural areas, as an academic field rural entrepreneurship has historically been focused on developed countries (UK, USA / Canada, Europe). For the most part, the challenges of developing countries have been addressed by a separate strand of research – development studies. This separation is artificial and I am interested in exploring how rural entrepreneurship occurs in both contexts. Projects such as the Comic Relief innovative supply chain network allow lessons from both developed and developing contexts to be learnt.
- How would you summarise Comic Relief project? Why is it so important?
The Comic Relief project is a partnership with the Farm Shop Trust in Kenya, Plymouth University and Duchy College in the UK. Operating on the principle that smallholder farmers are not consistently receiving the quality of agricultural inputs or the knowledge they need to use them, the project is setting up a network of commercially sustainable micro-franchise agro-vet shops. These are stocked from a hub with a choice of appropriate products and sold to farmers by staff qualified to give advice at the point of use. The impact is not trivial and during the 2 year project we aim to open 50 new shops and directly impact on the lives of 10,000 farming households. We expect to see improvements in farming yields, incomes and wellbeing as a result.
- As an Entrepreneurship academic what do you think is the greatest challenge The Farm Shop project will face on the way to achieving its goals of sustainably providing small-holder farmers with opportunity, choice, and knowledge?
The model has been proven to work on a small scale during a pilot. The current challenge is two-fold: 1. adding 50 shops over 24-months and, 2. dealing with the tensions of rapid growth. Both of these issues rely on the entrepreneurial behaviour of franchisees and farmers in terms of take-up. We are monitoring progress here and have sent a team of staff and students out this summer to help address some of the inevitable tensions caused by growth.
Over the coming weeks Graduate Intern Amber Strong will be documenting her activities in Kenya via this blog to give you an idea of the support we are offering, and the work Farm Shop in Kenya. Keep an eye on the blog, The Future Centre’s Facebook Page and the Farm Shop’s Facebook Page for updates.
Related posts in our Farm Shop Kenya Series: