The Menter Berllan Community Enterprise Hub acts mainly as a multi-functional space where training and workshops in social media marketing and digital skills take place.
- many micro businesses do not have IT literacy and need support for digital inclusion - some basic, initial training, needs to be offered in this regard
- the time at which training is offered needs to considered- it can be difficult for SMEs to take time out during the day, and ‘breakfast’ meetings are difficult for those with children.
Overview of the business
The Menter Berllan Community Enterprise Hub is run by the Wild Women Enterprise Company Ltd, which was originally set up to offer mentoring and training, exclusively to women entrepreneurs. However, an identified need for community support with IT, internet and other skills, led to the creation of The Hub.
The company was officially formed on the 31 December 2014 but operated from the Founder’s home until November 2015. The Hub officially opened for business on 6 February 2016 but with significant delays in the installation of superfast broadband, was unable to offer a full range of services until September 2016.
The Enterprise Hub has a number of functions. It is an administrative base for the Wild Women Enterprise Co. Ltd but acts mainly as a multi-functional space where training and workshops in social media marketing and digital skills take place. Local people can be recruited and/or access training to provide business-to-business services with the aim of forming a caucus of knowledge.
One of the key drivers of the social enterprise company is to improve the local economy for all by creating job opportunities in skill-sets that are needed in the twenty-first century, and by supporting micro-entrepreneurs with practical input that nobody else is delivering.
Currently the Hub predominantly offers one-to-one coaching and training, either at the Hub itself or over Team Viewer – a software package that allows the facilitator to log on remotely to a customer’s computer to observe and coach the client in computer use. This is particularly pertinent in a rural region.
Menter Berllan information flow diagram
Highlighting the internal and external communication flows of the business.
Superfast broadband adoption
Significant issues were experienced with superfast broadband (SFBB) installation, with a connection provided nine months later than scheduled. This delayed the full launch of the business, as high-speed connectivity is one of its unique selling points. This also required the founder to meet with the Local MP, BT and others to accelerate the installation that finally took place in August 2016.
The business has the ‘cheapest’ package for business at £37 a month with 40Mbps included, and with a typical download speed of 38Mbps. However, the issue was raised that individual home users in the area pay a lower fee of £29 for 56Mbps - this was considered a barrier for very small businesses and social enterprise companies (‘playing by the rules’ as a limited company and not using the business package for ‘home’ use).
The founder has extensive self-taught IT skills, accessing online information on how to utilise packages. She considers regional IT competency to be low and has experienced difficulties recruiting staff with sufficient skills from the outset. She therefore decided to recruit local people willing to learn, and equip them to become administratively and digitally competent. The founder also commented on the ‘drift’ of young talent towards Cardiff, Aberystwyth and across the border to England, necessitating action to create more local opportunities and help keep skilled people in the area.
The founder currently works as a volunteer in the business and frequently offers her ‘own time’ to support micro-businesses that have very limited IT skills and are ‘terrified’ of using the computer. She expressed concern that Business Wales are somewhat neglecting this group, instead offering training for those that are already IT literate and more easily able to become digitally included. The founder also expressed concern that Business Wales directs start-ups, ‘solopreneurs’ and ‘micropreneurs’ to use the Business Online Support System (BOSS) – which again assumes a level of IT competency and confidence that many do not possess.
Use of digital technologies
The company extensively uses Cloud services, with the ‘whole business model’ being conducted online. The company uses a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system, customer relationship management (CRM) software, website, marketing tools, Facebook, a blog and Mailchimp for online marketing. Data is stored on both Dropbox and Onedrive. As the premises are in a flood-prone area, the company has a contingency plan that means it could continue operating from another location if necessary.
The organisation maintains an ethos of being a ‘Good practice example’: “if we can do it with very limited resources using low-cost or no-cost software, then so can you”.
Day-to-day activities have not changed significantly with the introduction of SFBB; however, the organisation is now able to reduce costs and work more effectively using VoIP. All phone calls are conducted through Skype rather than a stand-alone VoIP system due to costs.
Increased bandwidth has enabled the organisation to communicate more easily with clients using Skype and Team Viewer simultaneously; this again is driving down costs for the organisation.
The company now hopes to develop webinars, enabled by secure and sufficient bandwidth to provide a ‘professional’ service. Furthermore, the company wishes to build a profile that enables businesses to hot desk and rent desk space at the Hub. This service will be launched in May 2017, offering month to month contracts with specified number of hours per month; packages range from 12 hours a month at £49, to 60 hours for £159. This includes access to high-speed Wi-Fi.
The organisation would have liked more engagement with Business Wales in the region. They have accessed most support from the Wales Co-operative Centre (Wild Women Enterprise Co. Ltd was deliberately set up as social enterprise), but feel without further help and funding, the mid-Wales region will continue to lag in digital inclusion.