Small business support network Enterprise Nation has won a national competitive tender to deliver digital support to 600 English firms as part of an initiative to boost UK productivity, in partnership with Brunel University London.

The funding is part of the government’s £8 million Business Basics Programme, unveiled in the UK’s Industrial Strategy, run by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Innovate UK.

The pilot project, called ‘Heads Up!’, will see the Enterprise Nation-Brunel partnership working with 600 micro and small companies to help them adopt digital technology and more efficient management techniques to improve cash flow and sales. Part of the aim is also to boost the morale of the employees of smaller companies.

It will test the most effective way this kind of support can be delivered as part of longer-term government investment in UK enterprise.

Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, said: “We are delighted to have won this important work which we feel will deliver a much-needed boost to the small business community at a critical time.

“If we get this right, the benefit will be felt across the whole economy. The UK is home to 5.7 million small businesses and many have the ambition to grow. This project will evaluate how support can best be delivered to boost revenue and improve company processes. The learnings will be used by government to inform policy on how the UK can deliver the most relevant support, at the right level of investment.

“Over the past 12 months, we’ve listened to the concerns of small business owners; to the challenges they face and opportunities they seek. Founders want to enter new markets with a motivated team, and get paid on time so cash can be invested back in to the growth of the business.

“But entrepreneurs struggle to raise their heads from day-to-day operations; to work on the business, not in it.

“This project will make it easy for owners to step back to identify and access relevant support. It will help them highlight which areas of the business need attention, match founders with accredited coaches (online and off), offer a suite of productivity tools, and measure results throughout.”

The initiative will see the partnership work with London and Oxfordshire Growth Hubs, Innovation Birmingham and Boost Lancashire to recruit small businesses, starting in March 2019, which will receive online support on how to embrace digital technologies via a productivity coach.

Firms will be recruited and then randomly selected to either access online support or attend an in-person productivity roadshow. A digital diagnostic will assess the current state of the business so that results can be evaluated over the period of the trial by analysts at Brunel.

Dr David Bell, senior lecturer in Brunel’s Department of Computer Science, added: “We in the research team hope that AI (Artificial Intelligence) and simulation will enable new insights into how micro and small companies evolve – particularly the impact of cloud-based digital services.”

Enterprise Nation has recruited corporate partners to support the trial, including Microsoft, Xero, CharlieHR, Soldo, Basekit and Equipsme, which will help deliver training for accreditation, and promoting the project to customers who may be looking for support to grow.