A recently published report has recommended the establishment of an inclusive regional network for SMEs in the agri-food sector in Europe.
EIT Food North West, which is among eight EIT innovation communities, published the report based on insights from 100 agri-food SMEs in Ireland, the UK and Iceland.
EIT Food is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the EU set up in 2008 to drive innovation and entrepreneurship across Europe.
The report found that SMEs in the agri-food space tend to be mission-led, purpose-driven businesses motivated by changing the system.
“While it is positive that SMEs focus on more than profit alone, it can create significant challenges for them, as they want to introduce new products and services into the market,” it outlined.
Among the obstacles faced by the sector are adopting new technologies and business models from industry and changing government policies.
The report said that accessing customers, markets and technical expertise can also prove to be a barrier to growth.
EIT Food NW said that securing funding can be challenging as “investors tend to prioritise return on investment” while innovation in the sector may take longer to reach profit.
The authors of the report noted that although there is a “great deal of support” already in place for SMEs to grow their businesses, tailored services are not extensive for the agri-food sector.
The report recommends a range of activities that would operate across Ireland, the UK, Ireland and Iceland in a bid to help businesses to scale and grow:
- Create an inclusive regional network of innovative agri-food SMEs and specialist service providers;
- Leverage extended networks and broker introductions to provide access to technology, facilities, and funders;
- Provide access to high-quality resources and tools for professional development (technical and business); focused on innovation, operational process, and scale-up skills;
- Provide specialist training on business innovation and strategy for food SMEs;
- Hold roadshows/tours focused on technology demonstrations; and
- High-profile media campaigns to showcase SMEs in the network.
Commenting on the publication of the report, Jayne Brookman, director of EIT Food North West, said: “There are particular challenges around providing tailored support for small ‘farm to fork’ businesses. Most innovation support agencies have to support a wide range of sectors.
“Our aim is to help to create easier access to new technologies and markets and tailored business support to enable these agri-food businesses to attract investors and develop sustainable, scalable businesses.
“EIT Food North West Regional Office can play its part by connecting SMEs to the international networks and the available agri-food business expertise that these businesses have told us they want,” she said.