Free support programme for rural businesses

Rural businesses can create tenfold increases in their audience size, with digital marketing technologies like virtual reality and 360° video.

Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 1:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 1:01 pm

Rural businesses can create tenfold increases in their audience size, with digital marketing technologies like virtual reality and 360° video.

That’s according to Digi2Market, an EU programme which launched a new campaign offering free marketing and networking support to rural and small-scale businesses.

The campaign is also staging a #ruralbusiness day on social media on Wednesday, January 19 which was recently launched in Northern Ireland by media research expert, Dr Helen Jackson, Ulster University.

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Micheál " Duibhir, Údaras na Gaeltachta, Dr. Petri Raivo, president of Karelia University of Applied Sciences, Finland, Risto Salminen, Karelia University of Applied Sciences, Finland, Davíð Jóhannsson, North West Region Association, Iceland, Dr. Lasse Okkonen, Karelia University of Applied Sciences, Finland, Seán " Coisdealbha, Údarás na Gaeltachta and Digi2Market’s programme co-ordinator, Alison McGonagle, Westbic, Dr. Helen Jackson, Ulster University, Jennifer Ní Riain, Údaras na Gaeltachta, Sveinbjörg Rut Pétursdóttir, North West Region Association, Iceland and Marja-Liisa Ruotsalainen, Karelia University of Applied Sciences, Finland

The university is one of two NI agencies involved in the EU project, working alongside cross-border agency, ICBAN. Other partners are based in Finland, Iceland and the Republic of Ireland.

Dr Jackson explained: “The #ruralbusiness day aims to highlight the role small businesses play in regional economies. They provide employment and support sporting and community bodies. So, #ruralbusiness day gives everyone a chance to show their appreciation for these rural entrepreneurs.”

Dr Jackson outlined that rural businesses can feel “isolated and find it hard to reach bigger markets. Digi2Market helps them use immersive technologies like VR and Augmented Reality to boost their marketing efforts and reach bigger audiences. It also offers them a way to connect and network online with businesses across Europe.”

Andy Hallewell, innovation officer at ICBAN, the Irish Central Border Area Network highlighted that any EU or NI business is eligible to sign up to the programme: “However, our focus is on rural and small-scale businesses. We help them identify the latest technologies to market their business and put them into practice effectively.”

Dr Jackson continued: “Mobile phone apps and immersive technologies can transform the way people engage with tourist attractions like Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne. By linking physical and virtual spaces, visitors can explore the majestic clifftop location and discover the music, art, legends and stories of the people who lived there hundreds of years ago. And they do this with their phone in one hand and their feet firmly on the ground.”

Digi2Market helped Finnish wellness service company Rantakylän Fysikaalinen Hoitolaitos (RFH) reach new audiences with a 360° tour of their facilities. They also assisted them with the creation of an online store, which made it easier for customers to book and buy their services.

In Iceland, the Digi2Market partner is development agency SSNV. They collaborated with food processing company, Vörusmiðja Biopol, in a 360 virtual tour.

Sveinbjörg Rut Pétursdóttir of SSNV explained: “It gave potential customers a realistic visual idea on what to expect when they book food processing services.”

Digi2Market is also about helping small businesses to connect with other businesses across Europe. Another key function of the campaign is to encourage small businesses to use more sustainable business practices.

European expert, Dr Lasse Okkonen, principal lecturer at Karelia University in Finland – another Digi2Market partner - believes using a Green Business Model is not just about helping the environment: “Companies who apply environmental management systems and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) succeed better in public procurements of products and services. This is because they can better meet tightening environmental and responsibility criteria. In addition, enterprises applying green business models can better meet the expectations of stakeholders like industrial partners. They offer transparency on the environmental impact of everything they do to create a product or service.”

Small and rural businesses who want to sign up for free to the Digi2Market programme can do so directly from their website

Digi2Market is an EU funded project under the Interreg Northern Periphery and Artic Programme. The partners in the project are Údarás na Gaeltachta & WestBIC from Ireland, ICBAN and Ulster University from Northern Ireland, Karelia University of Applied Sciences from Finland and SSNV (Business Development Agency) from Iceland.

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