RURAL Scotland is sparsely populated, often remote, and by its very nature lacking in infrastructure. That means it’s probably the last place anyone would think of as a hotbed of entrepreneurial action.

In fact,it has huge potential for dynamic business growth. According to Scotland’s leading private sector organisation supporting entrepreneurship, the rural economy is in many ways ideal for generating dynamic new companies and innovative thinking.

Elevator UK, the social enterprise charged with supporting the business leaders of today and tomorrow, sees it as an ideal environment for encouraging new business growth and development. It is now committed to expanding its operational activities across the 80 per cent or so of Scotland’s land area designated as rural.

According to Rachel Ross, the organisation’s Rural Development Director, it is the fact that the population is small and dispersed that actually creates an entrepreneurial culture. “It’s not as easy to access support in rural areas as it is in urban ones, so you will find that quite a lot of people have businesses and do more than one thing”, she explains. “On an island for instance, as well as running their own enterprise, people might work part time with the lifeboat or at the fire station.

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“That means there’s a propensity to be entrepreneurial. We want people in rural parts of Scotland to have the same access to support you can find in a city – to connect with the specialist advice and the big names that can talk to you about how you can grow your business.”

The key to this, of course, is connectivity. The topography of places like the Highlands mean that high quality digital infrastructure is not yet ubiquitous, but it is a lot better than it used to be and this opens the door to growing the business networks that are needed. The key to providing support is the creation of rural enterprise hubs and community hub satellites. These can offer the facilities for local people to work, meet each other, hold events and connect digitally with workshops and mentoring sessions at larger centres in urban areas.

Elevator UK is currently working to build out this network. “Every regional economy across the globe that is flying has a central place within it that draws entrepreneurs to learn”, says Professor Gary McEwan, its CEO, who is a former UK Entrepreneur of the Year and winner of a Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion.

“We’ve copied that model here and created Centres for Entrepreneurship. These have become beacons attracting like-minded people to share ideas and build peer groups that grow companies.

“Our strategy shows that it’s working and achieving tangible results – Aberdeen now produces around 15 per cent of Scotland’s startups despite only having 8 per cent of the population.

“We’ve now opened a small enterprise hub as a pilot project in Fraserburgh, which is by any definition a rural economy, and connected it to our Aberdeen and Dundee centres. It’s allowed local people to achieve a level of education that would otherwise be very difficult to provide in a rural area.”

The aim is now to create a network of these smaller hubs to provide, as Professor McEwan puts it, “a local heartbeat”. He adds: “They will be somewhere that people can gravitate towards where they can connect into something bigger, get a world class education and be part of something really quite special.”

The future Scotland-wide network, he explains, will function at three levels. At the top will be the Centres for Entrepreneurship, with the current operations in Aberdeen and Dundee soon to be joined by a third at the University of the West of Scotland campus in Hamilton, Lanarkshire. The next layer will be rural enterprise hubs based in towns with populations of about 13,000 to 20,000 around the country.

“Our focus for these to start with is likely to be the south of Scotland”, says Rachel Ross. “We are already working in North and South Lanarkshire and plan to expand this work further into the south of Scotland. We are in conversation with South of Scotland Enterprise and the Scotland 5G Centre about its plans for rural connectivity. There are a lot of interesting developments at the moment, including the new rural 5G Centre in Dumfries, that will expand the potential for rural businesses to be entrepreneurial and grow.”

The third level, satellite hubs, may well be mobile and even pop-up operations where small community-run hub facilities are already in place.

“It may be a case of booking space in local centres”, Ms Ross says. “They wouldn’t necessarily operate five days a week – it might be two and a half days a fortnight. They would all be connected digitally. If we used a mobile enterprise van, it would have high-speed satellite capability. By doing this we could, for instance, run a workshop on the climate emergency from Aberdeen and it could be accessed by people on the Isle of Jura.”

The aim is not to rush out a broad Scotland-wide network of rural entrepreneurship centres but rather to let them grow organically. As well as the south of Scotland, other early options may include Tayside and Aberdeenshire Rachel Ross says that funding for the expansion is available from a variety of different sources. Scottish Government support can be accessed along with financial assistance from the UK Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund.

In addition, partnerships may be struck with other agencies such as the Scotland 5G Centre, the national hub for the adoption of the latest mobile broadband technology. “Access to broadband in rural areas still isn’t universal and that’s a challenge we face, but in the short-term if we can bring people into a local centre which does have super-fast access and is within perhaps 20 minutes of where people live, that will be a huge stepping stone.

“Having said that, it’s still critical for Scotland’s future economy that we have broadband connectivity that is accessible by 100 per cent of the people for 100 per cent of the time.”

Joining up the country in this way, she adds, anyone can be an entrepreneur and access support anywhere is the key to obtaining sustained economic growth that is location agnostic.

“At Elevator UK, we do have the capability to provide the entrepreneurial ecosystem that is required. We are ambitious to do that –not just for ourselves, but for the businesses that we are supporting. The thought of so many different places in Scotland being able to come together and make this work is hugely exciting. The more that happens, the better it’s going to be for our economy.”


INSPIRED by the love of top quality, locally produced food and the community, Mad Potato is an online platform where you can order fresh local produce and have it delivered directly to your door. Co-Founder Ramona Obafemi is on a mission to reshape consumers’ shopping habits by making them think and choose local first.

In order to bring her Mad Potato concept to life, Ramona joined Elevator’s Aberdeen Flagship Accelerator in September 2020.

“I started the programme with just an idea, we didn’t even have a name. I just knew there were people out there who were struggling to source products from local suppliers and there were local suppliers who couldn’t reach their customers. I joined the programme to transform my idea into an actual viable business,” she said.

Despite previously starting and growing a different business called Highlander Café Bus, Ramona found that the programme was the perfect platform to learn from others.

“My experience on the Accelerator was extraordinary! It took my business thinking to another level. “The programme really makes you drill down on every single aspect of your business to the finest detail. I even came up with the name Mad Potato after a group session with the other Founders.

“The support throughout the programme from the staff, agitators and guest speakers was invaluable. “I feel so grateful to have taken part in this Accelerator and to have created such strong bonds, even though the programme was fully delivered online.”

Since taking part, Mad Potato has grown steadily and continues to add new products to its website and increase its offering.

Ramona explains: “I have managed to implement a number of the elements I learned during the Accelerator to the business so far. We noticed an increase in demand for quality products during lockdown.”

Ramona’s advice for anyone considering joining an Accelerator is: “Dedicate as much time as you can – you get out of it what you put in. Develop connections with agitators and friendships with your fellow Founders. “It is not just about you and your business, it is about being part of something much greater than that and building your businesses together.”

If you think you could benefit from a programmes, apply at academic-accelerator/

This article was brought to you in association with Elevator UK