Stimulating innovation and business growth in rural SMEs


  • Lack of innovation
  • Lack of business start up


  • Targeted support to rural businesses
  • Use knowledge base of the university


  • Politics
  • withdrawal of publicly funded support for business start up
  • Aging population not engaged with the local economy.
  • University not engaged with the local economy


  • Workshops
  • Development of business cases

Problems and Challenges

If your region wants to see greater innovation in rural businesses, more new businesses starting up and more cooperation between businesses and universities then a solution like that piloted in Norfolk by Norfolk Knowledge might be the option for you.

“If only Norfolk knew what Norfolk knows”


Norfolk Knowledge is a partnership project established by the Business School at the University of East Anglia with the cooperation of Norfolk County Council. The project brings together retired “captains of industry” with significant business knowledge in a range of areas and to offer their knowledge and experience to businesses seeking to grow and innovate.

Being based at the University of East Anglia also gives Norfolk Knowledge additional resources and information to draw on and creates better links between the university and the economic area in which it resides.

Businesses which  identified short terms gaps in knowledge have the opportunity to benefit from short term, targeted businesses support which helps them to overcome a specific barrier. It has been specifically promoted to businesses in rural areas with additional potential for grants, partnership working and more targeted support.


Innovation in products and processes is critical to the survival and growth of Norfolk’s economy yet many local businesses, in particular rural SMEs, struggle to perform in terms of innovation. This reluctance to explore new products and techniques can stall the growth which is necessary to fuel Norfolk’s economy.

Founders and owners of SMEs have traditionally been wary of business growth which is seen as creating new responsibilities that takes them away from the core business activities and which they perceive as undermining their independence. This uncertainty around growth also provides challenges for the sustainability of a business as the knowledge and experience can often lie with a sole individual. Businesses seeking to grow need to make adjustments, including taking on new staff, to support these new aspirations.

To support growth in these areas the Norfolk Knowledge Innovation Panel was created to support business activity and operate as a hub of creativity and support for businesses in Norfolk’s rural economy. They will assist them in putting together a comprehensive business case, which can help to secure loans or funding, as well as making them aware of the priorities which are likely to arise in the future. Having a mentor to assist with future planning will make new processes and procedures easier to plan for and overcome. Having this support gives small businesses the confidence to explore innovation, new techniques and new technologies. This in turn will have a positive impact on Norfolk making the local economy more diverse and dynamic.


A variety of tools were used towards the success of this project including:

  • building relationships between local entrepreneurs, the university and new business start ups
  • an innovation panel to discuss new project ideas
  • Dragon’s Den