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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/J000604/2
Title: Scaling the Rural Enterprise
Principal Investigator: Mulligan, Dr CEA
Other Investigators:
Greenhalgh, Professor C Jones, Professor M Crabtree, Professor A
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Dr A Chamberlain
Project Partners:
HORIZON Digital Economy Research IBM UK Ltd Microsoft
Ordnance Survey Organic Centre Wales
Department: Imperial College Business School
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 23 July 2012 Ends: 30 June 2015 Value (£): 1,053,173
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Design Processes Economics
Information & Knowledge Mgmt Networks & Distributed Systems
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Information Technologies
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
Rural contexts do not naturally nurture large scale, sustainable enterprises. Rural enterprises wanting to grow, struggle without the honed infrastructures for collaboration, communication and distribution found in urban-industrial areas. The difficulties in achieving sufficient scale create barriers to entrepreneurial activity and prohibit rural business ecologies thriving, in particular the transaction costs associated with dealing with many micro-level organisations. This project addresses the fundamental challenge of scaling up rural enterprises within the UK and India and how we might exploit digital technologies to achieve this.

Economies of scale and scope have enabled the creation of large-scale multinational corporations that sit atop the 'apex' of large supply chains. In order to provide the cheapest product possible companies place enormous price pressure on their suppliers, often exploiting digital technologies to manage their supply chains and co-ordinate supply and demand worldwide. Rural enterprises involved in supply chains are often disadvantaged and there are a significant number of examples where local producers participating in supply chains of national or global conglomerates are squeezed in the 'race to the bottom'. In the UK this has pushed many farming communities to the point of bankruptcy. Furthermore, since many value chains worldwide are now oligopolies, there are few other customers for these rural communities to sell their products, making it very difficult for them to change their role in the supply chain - they are beholden to sell their products to those companies that agree to buy. The need for enterprise innovation in this domain is recognised, not least as a means to combat poverty, the issue is how rural communities might achieve this scaling up and support it.

Rural communities are currently uncertain of the appropriate forms of enterprise needed to scale up their endeavours and lack access to the appropriate IT enterprise capabilities to support these. Scaling up is essential if these communities are to obtain higher than subsistence income levels for the materials they produce. For example, many rural enterprises and their associated communities of practice cannot ensure the ability to deliver according to schedule a certain amount of product at a certain quality level. Without achieving sustainable economies of scale and of scope, rural enterprises will not be able to participate fully in the global economy. We need to innovate both in terms of the enterprise and the technologies uses to support these enterprises.

Within this project we wish to understand the next generation of rural enterprises that may be enabled by mobile devices in rural settings. First generations rural enterprises have emerged that exploit the timely delivery of information and expertise using mobile devices with considerable success in rural areas. Our focus in this proposal is the establishment of the next generation of enterprise where these mobile devices are used to scale up the activities of a rural enterprise by support the definition and management of enterprise wide processes between distributed members of these emergent rural enterprises.

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