The Oxford Farming Conference this year has focused on innovation and entrepreneurial farming practices, but what exactly is an entrepreneur and what skills are needed to be one?
What is an entrepreneur?
The Oxford Farming Conference report defines an entrepreneur as a person willing to pursue a business activity opportunity without regard to resources that are currently within their control.
“A person who sees an opportunity and decides not to pursue it because they haven’t currently got the facilities to achieve it isn’t entrepreneurial,” says the report’s co-author, Graham Redman.
“The entrepreneur is someone who sees an opportunity and – even if they haven’t currently got the resources – realises that if they bring somebody else on board, and get some finance, then it might be achievable. That is entrepreneurial.”
See also: 7 ways to be a top farming entrepreneur
Entrepreneurial skills – the three Ps
Entrepreneurial skills can be learned, says Mr Redman, because the characteristics required to be entrepreneurial are commitment and the “three Ps” – perseverance, persistence and proactivity.
A refusal to give up is more important than having an outgoing personality.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg are prime examples of the “quiet entrepreneur”, says Mr Redman.
“There are lots of people who are seemingly mild and timid that you might think wouldn’t have it in them to be entrepreneurs.”
“It is about lifting your visor and looking towards the horizon and around yourself – seizing the opportunities for your farm and your resources – and building on them to create something special.”
Farming entrepreneur case study
John Geldard is an example of a successful farming entrepreneur. He started out on a small family farm and, over a 30-year period, created Plumgarths, a flourishing food hub which supplies major retailer, Asda.
His childhood on a small Cumbrian family farm on marginal land with 25 cows, laying hens and some sheep, gave John Geldard the ideal perspective for creating a thriving food park.
Plumgarths supplies more than 80 lines of local Cumbrian foods to Asda. It includes a poultry unit supplying the main retailers and local businesses, a meat processing business specialising in poultry, beef and lamb products and a farm shop and café.
“Markets change. It’s vital to understand these shifts and adapt your system to suit”
Together with his fellow directors, Mr Geldard has also overseen the development of the J36 Rural Auction Centre, an expanding business hub focused on an auction yard that features vets, legal services, insurance brokers, agricultural consultancy services and machinery distributors.
In business, Mr Geldard is a firm believer in the power of collaboration along the food chain, and also in the power to be able to influence people at any level. He has high expectations and is not frightened by risk – provided the returns look right on paper.
He says he is not completely fearless, though, and often wondered in the early days whether he was pushing too hard in a new enterprise or venture. But now he looks back and asks: Was I bold enough? This has spurred him on to develop more businesses.
A strong believer in marketing, Mr Geldard says it is important to research consumers, develop products and build brands. “Markets change. Three decades ago the drive was for lean meat,” he says. “People now want meat with marbling – it’s vital to understand these shifts and adapt your system to suit.”