Accountability of venture support agencies: Do they really help?

There is widespread recognition of the vital role small and medium enterprises (SME) play in the sustainability of the Canadian rural landscape. However, rural entrepreneurs face barriers and challenges throughout the start-up and growth stages of their ventures. The rapid development of e-commerce, coupled with increasing big-box competition and shifting demographics challenge the sustainability of rural SMEs. The literature recognizes gaps in SME owner capability, pertaining to business planning, the use of financial information, the implementation of Information Technologies, and funding. It should be noted that the effectiveness of Government policies regarding support for training in these areas through publically funded agencies is well documented. However, research regarding the effectiveness of these agencies in reaching and meeting the needs of rural venture owners is primarily restricted to funding requirements. This paper examines the utilization and satisfaction of venture support agencies and community organizations by rural SME owners in 14 communities through a Business Expansion and Retention (BR&E) research project conducted in Alberta, Canada. The results indicated that agency usage can be effectively predicted by firm size, degree of localization, and planning. Results indicate that while many owners identified the need for assistance in training and funding, the utilization of support agencies, underscored by the lack of user satisfaction, may hinder rather than enhance venture viability and growth. The implications for government policy are discussed in the context of enhancing the effectiveness of support agencies, thereby contributing to the viability of ventures and the sustainability of rural communities.

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