UK Government boosts small business with investment in tech project trials

Kelly Tolhurst
Kelly Tolhurst

Technology projects and pilots across the country – including digital dairy farming, artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots and cloud computing technology – are among those to benefit from a new fund to boost the productivity of UK small businesses, Small Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst confirmed.

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A total of 15 projects from all parts of the UK have won a share of £2 million from the first round of funding from the Business Basics Fund. Among the winning bidders are cutting-edge collaborations between businesses and groups including the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD), Enterprise Nation, Universities, Government-backed Growth Hubs and local authorities. 

Among the projects to receive funding for their innovations are:

  • London-based Enterprise Nation will test ways to encourage SMEs to adopt digital technologies such as cloud computing;
  • Greater London Authority, CongitionX, Capital Enterprise, and the London School of Economics will be working together boost adoption of AI technologies like chatbots for the retail and hospitality sector. Chatbots can help bridge the gap between online and offline experiences;
  • Locality, a London-based charity that supports local community organisations will pilot a scheme to increase the adoption of cloud-based accounting packages by community sector Small and Medium-sized enterprises (SMEs);
  • Devon City Council will complete a pilot to help rural micro businesses adopt modern business practices;
  • Food Forward and the University of Surrey are developing an online tool for SMEs in the dairy sector to find proven technologies that can accelerate their production and boost productivity;
  • Cass Business School (City) in partnership with the University of Oxford, Bocconi University, London Growth Hub and Cavendish Enterprise will deliver a cutting-edge, completely free of charge, business support programme to hundreds of UK micro businesses focused on systematic decision making;
  • The Skills & Growth Company will pilot the delivery of ‘Learning Journeys’, in partnership with Siemens and RedEye, to help SMEs in Cheshire benefit from their expertise in using digital technology; and
  • The Business Clinic at Northumbria University which is an education scheme whereby a group of business students participate in a ‘consultancy firm’ to provide free advice for clients.

Small Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst said:   

 “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and as part of our modern Industrial Strategy, we are supporting them with new investments to boost their productivity and ensure they can continue to thrive in the future. 

 “Today’s investment will support innovative projects that test how Government and private sector companies can help small businesses adopt a range of technologies and management practices that save them time and make them more efficient.” 

A second funding competition was launched this week with £2m available to businesses, academia and local authorities for new projects focused on testing ways of rolling out existing productivity-boosting technology and management practices to businesses.

The Fund, which forms part of the Government’s plan to boost UK national productivity through its modern Industrial Strategy, is delivered in partnership with Innovate UK and Nesta.

Research from the CBI suggests that by encouraging more businesses to take advantage of existing technologies, management practices and business support– such as cloud computing, mobile technology and e-purchasing – the UK economy could receive a £100 billion boost and see a 5% reduction in income inequality.

Dr Ian Campbell, Executive Chair of Innovate UK, said:

“Trying something new is a big step for any business, but true innovation enables firms grow. To solve the UK’s productivity puzzle, we need more firms to adopt new, but proven, technologies and novel ways of doing things so they can get ahead of the competition.

“That’s exactly what the industrial strategy, through the business basics scheme, is helping these projects to achieve.”

Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of innovation foundation Nesta, said:   

“The Business Basics Fund signals a welcome commitment by government to applying experimental methods to boosting economic productivity.

 “It is vitally important that we gather evidence about the effectiveness, or otherwise, of the billions of pounds that are spent by governments around the world, currently with not enough hard evidence about what works.”

Today the Government will also publish the Business Support Evaluation Framework. The new Framework will set out the quality standards that are expected for evaluations of BEIS-funded business support programmes and will enable the effectiveness of different policies and programmes to be compared.

The framework is designed to assist policy makers, evaluators and delivery bodies in generating robust evidence of what works, so BEIS can make better informed decisions of current and future policies.    

Government is committed to investing, through its modern Industrial Strategy, in science and research to keep the UK at the forefront of new technologies and the benefits they bring.

The Strategy is also helping us nurture and upskill people to do the jobs of the future, through increased investment in technical education and a national retraining scheme.

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