Social Enterprises And Small Businesses To Receive £7.5m

Social enterprises, small and micro businesses across Northern Ireland are set to benefit from £7.5 million of funding to speed up their digital transformation.

The businesses and social enterprises will receive the funding through the Digital Transformation Flexible Fund (DTFF). The scheme will uniquely operate across all City and Growth Deals in Northern Ireland.

This funding will stimulate digital innovation through grant assistance between £5,000-£20,000, removing the financial obstacles that prevent small and microbusinesses from implementing cutting-edge digital technology to transform their operations.

Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Áine Groogan said: "It's vital that we help our smaller businesses adapt to rapid changes in customer behaviours and business models and harness digital transformation to allow them to expand and thrive.

"All partners share an ambition to boost productivity and competitiveness by driving up levels of digital transformation and innovation in small and micro businesses. So this investment is really welcome, because it clearly aligns with and contributes to our City and Growth Deal ambitions, particularly those around digital and innovation capability."
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Mel Chittock, Interim CEO, Invest Northern Ireland said: "The Digital Transformation Flexible Fund will give businesses and social enterprises the opportunity to improve their resilience, develop new digital capability and to drive up levels of digital engagement and innovation. This in turn will help drive productivity and competitiveness, delivering tangible benefits for the business itself, and for Northern Ireland’s economy."

The DTFF is part funded by the NI Executive, UK Government, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and all local authorities in Northern Ireland.

It will be delivered by all 11 councils under the Full Fibre Northern Ireland Consortium (FFNI), led by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and supported by Invest NI.

Evidence demonstrates that smaller businesses do not have the capital resources available in terms of digital transformation and the adoption of digital technologies can lag relative to larger companies.

Those with a 12 month minimum trading history can apply for grant assistance between £5,000 and £20,000 ex VAT to fund their digital transformation project. If the applicant is eligible the grant can fund up to 70 per cent of the cost with 30 per cent match funding contribution from the applicant.

The DTFF capital investments are committed to enabling business transformation rather than the 'digitalisation' of existing business models or operations and must be based on the following advanced digital technologies or tools:

▪ Smart technologies or smart environments, the Internet of Things (IoT) and simulation;

▪ Process automation via robotics/cobotics, additive manufacturing;

▪ Big data and analytics;

▪ Immersive technologies (Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality/Mixed Reality/Haptics);

▪ Artificial intelligence and machine learning; and

▪ Horizontal and vertical system integration, distributed ledger systems or blockchain technologies.

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