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In 2020, we were privileged to take part in an academic research project, in partnership with Devon County Council, Plymouth Marjon University and Business Information Point. The aim of the research trial was to encourage open mindsets and attitudes – as well as actions – towards growth in small rural businesses. This was done by implementing a randomised controlled trial, placing participating SMEs (Small to Medium sized Enterprises) into one of two support packages, providing a programme of business support and assessing the impact.

Cosmic’s role was to deliver a package of “Technology” support for the independent Devon businesses. The objective was to facilitate the demonstration and trialling of new digital technologies. The ‘Person and Business’ support package was delivered by our partners, Business Information Point, and followed a person-centred approach to focus on the balance between business and personal aspirations. Plymouth Marjon University’s evaluation team followed a mixed method design, collecting and analysing quantitative data and qualitative data from the businesses impacted.

This was a hands-on, multi-departmental programme for Cosmic, with expertise and advice being delivered from across the different teams. Participating businesses were met by our Digital Business Advisors and provided with a demonstration of the varying new technologies that are available to small businesses in the present day. Our advisors discussed a range of options and examples with the independent business owners, looking at digital tech that can help businesses to grow, work more efficiently, effectively, safely and creatively. Examples included a review of cloud-based finance and accounting software, options on graphic design packages, CRM tools, file storage and project management software. 
Having discussed needs and demonstrated a range of technical solutions, the businesses were then eligible to receive grants from the project to cover the cost of purchasing new software and devices. Cosmic were deployed to revisit the participant, providing continual technical support and advice, aiding the adoption and implementation of the new technology.
 
Cosmic’s trainers, advisors and technicians worked with 98 Devon businesses, delivering nearly 300 hours of direct advice and support. Of those that completed the programme, the response and uptake was fantastic. Businesses came from all industries and professions: solicitors and accountants, hospitality, tourism, arts and crafts, food and drink producers, healthcare and retailers. Specific examples included a Dartmoor based vodka company, an alpaca wool farmer, a cheese wholesaler and a dog groomer. 

The academic research trial was of course impacted by Covid-19, but thankfully – as discovered by so many people – digital technology was one of the saving graces of lockdowns and social isolation in 2020. The research is now being concluded in a final report, to be published later in 2021. Initial feedback is encouraging: 
“The ‘Technology’ support package (98 participants at the outset) was very successful in supporting the trialling and adoption of new digital technologies among those micro enterprises that participated. Three quarters of participants reported trialling new digital technology as a result of the support package, with two thirds reporting adoption and almost all of these predicting continued use. The ‘Technology’ support package also supported action on business development and strategy in many cases. The support package was implemented by skilled, knowledgeable and flexible support providers.”

We look forward to learning more about the conclusions of the project and the comparisons with the other forms of intervention. 

Research like this will influence how Cosmic deliver social impact to businesses in the future.