Anna Price is a co-founder of the Rural Business Awards, alongside Jemma Clifford. As well as overseeing the awards Anna works as consultant with UK SMEs and start-ups, she is also the managing director of the UK arm of a Berlin-based healthcare tech business. The company develops solutions for the elder care sector by utilising wireless sensor technology and the Internet of Things.
“…We came up with the idea sat around a kitchen table one morning in mid-November 2014 and by 2pm we had secured our first headline sponsor with little more than an idea and a whole heap of passion…”
Realising corporate life was not for me
My career to date has been varied. I started out studying for a degree in exercise science, which combined my love of science with my love of sports. (I represented England at basketball during my university years.) However, after university I returned home without a clue about where I wanted to take my career!
A few temporary jobs later I found myself working at British Gas in research and development, where I took on responsibility for marketing new products and services within the oil and gas sector at a time when the industry was changing rapidly. I took on a lot of further study to equip myself for a career in marketing – studying with the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and achieving their highest-level accreditation – Chartered Marketer status – which I maintained for 16 years.
This job was the making of me. I travelled the world working for periods of time in the US and all over Europe during the deregulation of the gas industry. However, when I was made redundant from this role in 2004 this taught me so much about myself, and about my strengths and weaknesses.
I realised that corporate life was definitely not for me – I was never a person to tow the corporate line. I had ideas and vision and I wanted to be able to freely express this uninhibited by position or standing within a business. Essentially, I was a young woman with a big mouth in a very male dominated industry, and no one seemed willing or capable of channelling my energy and ideas.
In the years following I took on a few jobs which allowed me to put my heart into growing a family – I married in 2004, had my first daughter in 2006 and my second daughter 2009. Little did I know this would be a defining moment in my life. Becoming a mum was the most rewarding yet difficult job I’ve ever had.
My second daughter was diagnosed at birth with Downs Syndrome and had open heart surgery at eight months old. My girls are my greatest achievement – both are amazingly spirited (yes, I did say spirited!) bright, independent and loving.
After years of working as a consultant for other people I took the plunge just prior to my 40th birthday and decided to become self employed. It was scary, challenging and unpredictable – everything I love about working! I knew immediately that it was the best move I had ever made.
I set up a strategic marketing consultancy – which I still operate today with a very limited number of clients, to help people navigate the gap between doing no marketing and putting faith in the people who deliver marketing. I ensure people have the clarity and strategy to confidently start-up and grow and, where needed, procure relevant marketing services from third parties.
My passions today – other than helping people – are my other two businesses. Both opportunities that came about as a result of working for clients through my consultancy. I worked with Casenio (my healthcare tech business) to help them navigate entry to the UK market, but my biggest success to date was meeting my business partner in the Rural Business Awards, Jemma Clifford.
I worked for Jemma to help her to grow her online marketing, web design and print businesses. Her passion was the rural market and so we set about thinking of ways we could access the market and develop something of value to connect rural businesses, something that rural businesses find challenging for many reasons – seasonality of land based businesses and rural isolation, to name a couple.
The resulting brainwave was the Rural Business Awards. We came up with the idea sat around a kitchen table one morning in mid-November 2014 and by 2pm we had secured our first headline sponsor with little more than an idea and a whole heap of passion. We have just successfully delivered our third ceremony and are already headlong into planning 2018.
Jemma and I both operate all our businesses from rural offices – mine are all run from home in a large Leicestershire village. We are both rural born and bred – Jemma’s partner is a game keeper so they live eat and breathe rural. I have returned to the village where I was born in order to raise my family and be close to my ageing parents.
Anything but typical
My life is anything but typical as you might imagine. My day starts relatively early my alarm regularly goes off at 5.30am and I head to the gym a minimum of four days a week as my travel allows. I was diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in 2015 and exercise and healthy eating have been my saviour, as they enable my brain to stay focussed and alert.
When I’m not heading off to London for meetings I tend to ensconce myself in my home office and deal with my tasks for the day – which are always written down so that I remember what needs to be done.
Working from a home office allows me to finish early three days a week to pick up my youngest from school and cook the family dinner. I tend to ring-fence my evenings to prioritise family time and a little time for myself. I rarely work out of hours as I’m incredibly aware of the detrimental effect this can have on my state of mind. I occasionally take some time at weekends to get stuff done that’s dragged during the week but on the whole I have a great work life balance.
My London visits are becoming more frequent – meeting with sponsors of the Rural Business Awards like Amazon and the CLA (Countryside Landowners and Business Association). Our reach and profile is growing and we are engaging with Westminster via DEFRA who are actively seeking to engage with the rural business community and we are thrilled to be part of this renewed positivity around rural business.
I also regularly meet with potential partners and distributors for Casenio, as well as investors and venture capitalists.
No week is ever the same and I am always learning and always try to engage with as many businesses and new experiences as possible.
Digital – a critical enabler for rural businesses
Rural businesses and communities have been slowly dying for years – young people see their opportunities as being in the big cities, they move out and rarely return. This has created a brain drain. Our market towns, villages and hamlets are becoming places where our aging population resides.
Access to digital and online services have the capability to facilitate and reinvigorate rural communities. Rural business has a huge part to play in contributing to a post-Brexit economy and also enabling rural communities to not only survive but thrive. Access to 4G networks and broadband, as well as maintaining valuable transport links are the key factors underpinning the connection of our rural communities to national and global opportunities.
Once businesses are able to access online and digital services they can grow, explore export opportunities, connect with other businesses and educate themselves. This means generating better productivity and importantly bringing back valuable jobs and careers to rural communities which results in better social cohesion and the growth of rural communities.
It’s all connected and our vision at the Rural Business Awards is to stick a flag in the sand and say: “We are here. We are valuable. We are making a difference,” on behalf of all rural businesses, large and small.
Rural Internet / mobile connectivity
Rural Internet / mobile connectivity is getting better but it’s still not good enough. Many businesses are limited by the connectivity they have both in terms of mobile and broadband connectivity. There are schemes being offered to communities to enable better Internet connectivity but there has to be a consensus and willingness for a whole community to be involved. Rural businesses are disadvantaged by this lack of infrastructure.
I would suggest that businesses get involved with rural groups like the CLA (Countryside Landowners and Business Association) to make clear their ongoing dissatisfaction at the level of connectivity – I believe there is power in numbers. There are people willing and able to fight your corner.
My healthcare business
Interestingly, Casenio has a strong rural link. As our population ages their care needs increase, many families and elderly people are loathed to be uprooted from their homes. Casenio uses LPWAN (Low-Power Wide-Area Networks) and mobile phone networks to remotely connect relatives and carers to their loved ones and clients.
Within a home we use technology which utilises a SIM card to establish an internal wireless network which connects sensors to a home hub – no broadband or existing Internet is required and, unlike many other traditional at home alert systems, it does not use a phone line either.
Information is then gathered by the home hub and is securely transmitted to a data warehouse where it’s analysed and relevant warnings, reminders and notifications are sent to family members, carers or the individuals themselves. This gives everyone peace of mind.
Differences between the UK and Germany in terms women in tech
In my experience there are still a lack of women in tech – even in Germany. However, Germany’s acceptance of women in tech and equality of input is world-leading. My experience of Berlin is an entirely positive one. It has a wonderful start-up and tech focus.
Interestingly, in my experience, the similarities are greater than the differences. Access to funding is still an issue – in Berlin there are so many tech companies vying for attention it really does become survival of the fittest, whereas in the UK the less forward-thinking nature of our investors and willingness to take a risk can prevent tech start-ups from scaling up.
The Internet of Things and its ability to change people’s lives for the better
IoT (Internet of Things) technology combined with artificial intelligence will revolutionise our lives over the next ten years. We have begun to see the influence of IoT tech proliferating our lives – from the use of smart meters for our gas and electricity monitoring, to smart vehicles and smart cities.
I am increasingly being asked to talk to other businesses in other sectors about how our technological solutions can link up to help enhance the lives of normal people. There is a greater willingness than ever by those in traditional positions of influence like the NHS and social services to look at the use of technology, not only to reduce the burden on their over stretched services, but also to empower people to take control of their own health and wellbeing.
On the horizon
My aim is to deliver Casenio to the UK market and to work with the NHS to roll out a pilot project in the East Midlands. I’m also actively seeking investors to help us establish ourselves in our own right in the UK, independent of funding from Germany.
The Rural Business Awards (RBAs) is the only UK-wide programme dedicated to showcasing the success of rural businesses – a segment of the economy which employs more than 3.4 million people in over half a million businesses.
2017 saw entries from 52 counties in the UK and the 2017 Awards had nearly three times as many entries as in 2016. The RBAs offer opportunities for both profit-making businesses, community organisations and social enterprises to achieve recognition. Just the firms that entered in 2017 had combined turnovers well in excess of £70m. But there is still so much scope for the growth of the Awards and to increase our reach into, and support for, rural business communities, so we have big plans this year!
Along with Jemma and our team we are rolling out the Awards regionally in 2018 – which will see us undertake six ceremonies during October 2018 followed by a national final in early 2019. This is a big change and reflects the excitement around, and popularity of, the Rural Business Awards.
In our first three years we have offered 13 categories culminating in one national ceremony, however, it became apparent that with the numbers of applications we continue to generate and the overall interest levels in the Awards, we could – and should – offer the opportunity for rural businesses to be recognised regionally.
This approach will enable us to raise the profile of so many more businesses as when organisations reach the finals we offer a whole range of promotional support from social media and traditional marketing to PR and networking opportunities. We are dedicated to supporting rural businesses and it’s hugely rewarding.
This year we had 65 firms that were either category winners, runners-up or rated as highly commended in the finals. I am pleased to say that I know all their businesses in detail and will continue to champion their individual businesses, as well as rural business as a whole. Entries will open in November 2017, visit http://www.ruralbusinessawards.co.uk/ to find out more.
We’re also looking at some additional, and exciting, benefits for rural businesses this year, not all of them I can talk about just yet. However, I can say that the plan is you should be able to read about these developments soon, email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to be updated when the time comes!