Topic: The Role of Networks in Innovative Rural Businesses: A Case Study of Estonian Agro-Food Businesses
Key words: rural entrepreneurship, innovation, network relationships
Rural businesses are typically operating in considerably more challenging environment than their urban counterparts stemming from the distance, more limited access to variety of resources and infrastructure. Often rural businesses are smaller and thus the different ways to gain access to resources are especially critical to overcome the liability of smallness characterized by poor access to the financial, technological, human, information and other resources. Innovation requires resources. For a small rural business networks consisting of external actors and relationships provide crucial opportunities to get access to the external resources they need for creation and implementation of new products and practices. The aim of the present paper is to study the how the networks affect the development and implementation of innovations in rural context. The paper studies three cases of Estonian agro-food businesses. All three businesses are microenterprises that have implemented innovations in the last five years. The primary data for the analysis is collected from semi-structured interviews with the business managers and owners. This is complemented by secondary data from public written materials on the businesses, including newspaper and internet resources, annual reports and other documentation collected by desk research. Different data sources are combined to research the innovation activities of the businesses studied: type of innovation, radicalness, innovation process and its speed etc. The analysis of networks focuses on mapping the network relationships of the rural businesses with different actors and their main characteristics, the strength of the ties, type of cooperation and how the different actors have affected the access to the different types of resources and facilitated or hindered the innovation activities of the businesses.