British SMBs to benefit from fresh £2m government tech fund

Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has announced a new 2 million wave of funding which will be shared across 15 different small businesses, academic institutions and local authorities to help them embrace technology and become more profitable.

The projects will use the fund to harness artificial intelligence and cloud computing, with the view that encouraging these organisations to utilise modern technology could result in a productivity boost worth 100 billion to the UK's economy.

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.

The fund's recipients include Locality, a London-based charity that supports local community organisations, which will pilot a scheme to increase the adoption of cloud-based accounting packages by community sector Small and Medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Elsewhere, a collaboration between Greater London Authority, CognitionX, Capital Enterprise, and the London School of Economics will see a push to boost adoption of AI technologies like chatbots for the retail and hospitality sector.

The collaboration's efforts will see research using a randomised controlled trial (RCT) targeted at discovering what the best method is for encouraging SMEs to adopt AI.

"Lessons from this RCT will provide valuable insight into the most (a) effective and (b) cost-effective means of driving adoption of AI; whether education and convening is sufficient to drive adoption or whether a degree of 'hand-holding' is needed when seeking to drive adoption of perceived cutting edge technologies, said Dr. Anna Valero, economist and researcher at LSE.

"Moreover, the findings from this experiment will have value for other geographies, technologies and sectors across the UK. We will also seek to evaluate the impacts on firm performance over the longer term."

Even dairy farmers are getting in on the act. The $20 billion dairy manufacturing sector will benefit from research out of the University of Surrey which aims to develop a diagnostic tool, enabling SMEs in the sector to easily evaluate the case for investment in proven technologies that improve resource productivity.

"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, said Kelly Tolhurst, small business minister.

"Today's investment will support innovative projects that test how government and private sector companies can help small businessesadopt a range of technologies and management practices that save them time and make them more efficient."

"The Business Basics Fund signals a welcome commitment by government to applying experimental methods to boosting economic productivity, said Geoff Mulgan, chief executive of innovation foundation at Nesta.

"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."

The government has also published the Business Support Evaluation Framework. The new Framework will set out the quality standards that are expected for evaluations of BEIS-funded business supportprogrammesandwillenablethe effectiveness of different policies and programmes to be compared.

The framework is designed to assist policy-makers, evaluators and delivery bodies ingeneratingrobust evidence of what works,soBEIS can make better-informed decisionsof current and future policies.

The Industrial 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.

Connor Jones
News and Analysis Editor

Connor Jones has been at the forefront of global cyber security news coverage for the past few years, breaking developments on major stories such as LockBit’s ransomware attack on Royal Mail International, and many others. He has also made sporadic appearances on the ITPro Podcast discussing topics from home desk setups all the way to hacking systems using prosthetic limbs. He has a master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield, and has previously written for the likes of Red Bull Esports and UNILAD tech during his career that started in 2015.