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Cheshire’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme, Connecting Cheshire, is to run a series of masterclasses to help women entrepreneurs take advantage of superfast broadband and digital technology in their businesses.
The government’s equalities office has made a £90,000 windfall available to Connecting Cheshire to support the free masterclasses to demonstrate how access to fibre broadband can help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) realise their potential.
More than 300 businesses have already benefited from the first phase of the scheme. The second phase will see Connecting Cheshire team up with the Greater Manchester Business Growth Hub to run a programme called #Eveolution.
The programme will target 500 businesses and entrepreneurs with online learning and one-on-one support.
With under 20% of SMEs owned or majority-owned by women, the government is keen to encourage more women to become entrepreneurs. The Women’s Business Council has predicted that greater participation by women could boost economic growth by 10% by 2030.
Caroline Simpson, Cheshire East Council’s executive director of economic growth and prosperity, said: “It is really important that women entrepreneurs take advantage of this initiative. There are many extremely talented women across Cheshire who want a helping hand with technology, knowing that it would make a significant impact on the success of their business.
“The #Eveolution programme provides an opportunity for women-led businesses and potential female entrepreneurs to take advantage of faster broadband to expand or set up new businesses, including home-based enterprises.”
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Former ICT teacher Christine East, who now runs a pet supplies business, took part in the first phase of the project.
“We were able to immediately implement new skills into the business which have made a big impact, such as smartphone business apps, and see immediate results,” she said.
Rock and roll connection
To date, the £28.5m Connecting Cheshire scheme has delivered superfast broadband to 80,000 premises in the county, and recently signed an extension with BT to add 10,000 more properties by 2017 at a cost of £6m.
Leader of Cheshire East Council, councillor Michael Jones, said: “This additional broadband coverage we have brought to the region is already making a big impact and helping to keep Cheshire businesses competitive.”
Norley-based Bongo’s Rock and Roll Pickles, founded by drummer Manny Elias, who was the original drummer in Tears for Fears, is one business that has already upgraded its broadband package and taken advantage of a support package from the Superfast Business Programme.
Elias’s wife, actress Deborah Bouchard, who helped set up the business, commented: “Slow broadband was holding the business back and turning us into internet monsters! With less than 1Mbps download speeds we were rarely able to update the website or make much use of social media.
“Since getting fibre, we’ve been able to establish an e-commerce shop on the website and developed a good social media presence with blogs, videos and customer reviews. This is really helping us grow the business.”