Why is the Bristol broadband voucher scheme good for business?
Oli Gosling, co-founder of Big Fan brand and design agency, a small business with four team members (and a dog), said the slow internet had been damaging his fledgling firm’s reputation.
“We work with a lot of people abroad,” he said. “You get everything ready to present a new idea to a client and set up a Skype call but it turns out you could have had a better conversation with Neil Armstrong on the Moon. It doesn’t reflect well on us.
“It’s our reputation on the line. If we’ve spent a long time preparing something and we can’t communicate it, it’s very frustrating.”
A recent survey of business leaders in the South West by the Business Growth Fund placed digital infrastructure as the top priority for investment.
In the heart of Bristol’s new enterprise zone, they expected better, but the cost of installing something better was prohibitive to a small business.
The solution was an approach characteristic of Bristol. Rather than just curse and grumble – though there was a fair bit of that too – the tenants worked together
Why businesses in Bristol need to future-proof their business with the voucher scheme
One of the challenges is education, getting businesses to understand what’s on offer and convincing landlords who can be very sensitive to someone coming in and putting infrastructure in place on their premises.
It can take six months to get through that and when you think that the grant scheme is now running at £1 million a week, you need to get it done quickly.
The vouchers scheme was slow to take off but has picked up pace and the £40 million pot is disappearing fast and the money is allocated on a first come first served basis.
So far 1,734 businesses have taken advantage of the scheme in the South West, with 1,000 applications now being made nationally each week.
The Government is urging businesses to take advantage of broadband vouchers before the money runs out.
There are 50 cities eligible but the funds have not been ring fenced for each, so if all the businesses in Swindon get in first, it’s tough luck for Bristol.
Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said: “Our offer to small businesses has been a tremendous success and is proving incredibly popular.
“More than 40,000 businesses have already taken up our offer which is aimed at boosting both their broadband speeds as well as their bottom line.
“Businesses need to act now to ensure they don’t miss out on this fantastic offer and I’m urging all eligible businesses to apply now before it’s too late.”
Simon Coles, director at Keep Architecture, can vouch for the difference it has made.
“The biggest difficulty for me was doing remote back-ups,” he said. “We only had half a MB upload speed, we would struggle to remotely back up data. It was taking days so we never had backed up data. Now it takes half an hour.
“It means if we had a fire or a break in we could operate remotely. That gives us security. Before it was horrific, now it’s what you expect.”
Matt Hatch, chief executive of apps and games developer Red7Mobile, agrees.
“We absolutely depend on internet,” he said. “One of our guys said to me we need two things to do our jobs, a computer and internet. The internet was always lacking.”
The company was one of the first tenants in Temple Studios back in January 2013.
Matt said: “Until the fibre was installed, the internet was the biggest risk factor to our business.
“We were getting typical ADSL speeds, reliability was poor and the quality was poor so we ended up with three lines, load balancing off those lines but even so reliability was pretty shaky.”
“As CEO I was continually embarrassed by having highly skilled people not able to use high bandwidth internet.”
“Now… so far so good. We don’t sit around every day measuring our internet speed but we can breathe a sigh of relief that we are getting what we would have expected.”
Main image: Simon Coles of Keep Architecture, Oli Gosling of Big Fan, Matt Hatch of Red7mobile, Claire Brown of Spectrum and Alex Martin of Halo who have worked together to get high speed broadband installed at Temple Studios in Bristol. Pic by Jon Kent