Rural women innovators in Trøndelag contribute to EU-level research

For the duration of three years, eight rural women innovators in Trøndelag are part of the research project GRASS CEILING. The project is funded by Horizon, the world’s largest funding programme for research and innovation, and an EU resource to acquire new knowledge in Europe. 

Oi! Trøndersk Mat og Drikke and Ruralis are the two Norwegian project partners among the nine European Union countries that are participating in the project. Countries like Spain, Italy, Lithuania and Croatia all ask their rural women innovators the same questions: What is it like being an entrepreneur in agriculture and local food production in rural areas? Do women have the same access to resources as men do, and what are possible barriers for women starting their own businesses and upscaling their companies?

I’m very happy with the Living Lab and I think it’s working really well. We’re a good mix of great women, and I’m very pleased to be part of the project, says Torunn Bjerkem.

Bjerkem has been part of building the heirloom flour mill company Gullimunn, and is now in a substantial restructuring and innovation process with her farm Kulturgården Bjerkem, offering local food, accommodation and cultural events.

It’s great that someone like Mikael Forselius will be at the next Living Lab, talking to us about networking and his diverse experiences in the local food and hospitality industry, says Bjerkem.

Three Living Lab gatherings a year for three years

During the three annual Living Lab gatherings the project managers exchange knowledge and experiences from the rural women innovators, in a data collection process. This data is analysed as research that is delivered to the top level of the EU project. In this way the European Commission can make informed decisions about how they can support rural women innovators in the future.

So far, research has shown that rural women innovators contribute to more business in rural areas, they create sustainable innovations, and initiate and build healthy social communities.

“I really enjoy the social aspect when we meet for our Living Lab gatherings. We support each other, and give each other ideas and perspectives on each other’s businesses and products. It’s a good thing to be able to share the things that can feel heavy about owning a business”, says Kari Øye.

Øye has created the company Havfruene, producing Omega 3-rich cod liver oil made from locally sourced ingredients. They have a stand at the annual food festival in Trondheim: Trøndersk Matfestival, and Øye attended the Grass Ceiling-showcase in Brussels, where she presented her business to the rural women innovators and project partners of the other countries, and to representatives from the European Commission.

Workshops and ‘homework’

In the Living Labs the participants have organised workshops and lectures by various consulting and funding agencies, such as Innovation Norway, Fosenregionen, SISU Business and Proneo. “They gave us homework to ask our customers why they choose our product”, says Sissel Langørgen.

In the coming year and a half, two more women innovators from the project will travel to Vilnius and Brussels respectively, to present their businesses to the project. The participants are excited to learn about the final results of the GRASS CEILING project, which will be presented by the end of 2025.

Torunn Bjerkem
Kari Øye