Greater Manchester businesses impacted by COVID will be offered free support to build their online presence and reach a wider market as part of a new scheme.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and the Business Growth Hub have partnered with THG Ingenuity, the Technology Services division of Manchester-based THG, a global technology platform specialising in taking brands direct-to-consumers, to launch Greater Manchester Digital Drive, an initiative which provides businesses with free access to “off the shelf” tools to help them get online or improve their existing digital offer.

Through the initiative, businesses will be able to access THG Ingenuity’s Dotable platform so they can create and host a website for free for up to 12 months, building an online presence without any financial investment or risk.

The service offers them the chance to diversify in the current climate and test whether an online presence will help to drive more business and awareness.

Those that are already online but require a more sophisticated offering can gain free access to THG Ingenuity’s Imagination platform for six months, which offers additional e-commerce features that they can customize to their needs.

After the free period, businesses can choose to continue with a paid subscription, or leave the contract with no obligation to remain on the service.

Cllr Sean Fielding, GMCA Lead for Employment, Skills and Digital, said:

“The Greater Manchester Digital Drive supports the regions ambitions, outlined in our Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint, to digitally enable all businesses and empower and enable people and businesses through innovation, integration, infrastructure, industry and inclusion – to ensure that no-one is left behind.

“It’s great to see this offer added to existing support, to ensure our businesses feel supported”

Matthew Moulding, Founder, Chairman and CEO of THG, said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has left many businesses unable to trade normally. For some businesses, an online presence has meant the difference between survival and collapse.

“This initiative will remove the financial and skills barriers that have, until now, prevented businesses from going digital. It means that entrepreneurs who are currently relying on word-of-mouth or social media can now create a professional, scalable website and diversify the way that they do business. It could be a game changer for so many people across the region and, as a Manchester-born business we are incredibly proud that THG can play a big part in this.”

The new scheme, announced at an event hosted by GMCA, as part of Digital Leaders Week, builds on existing efforts to address digital exclusion across the city-region. At yesterday’s Digital Leaders event, Chief Executive Officer, GMCA Digital, Sara Todd also outlined the creation of a Greater Manchester Agenda for Change. The agenda aims to fix the digital divide, with a clear ambition to eliminate involuntary digital exclusion in Greater Manchester. It will be underpinned by an action plan that is sustainable and scalable and focusses on cross-sector collaborations and capacity building for community organisations.

In addition, the GMCA has already made a significant investment in local authorities’ work in their communities to support digital inclusion activities and further investment into supporting young people into tech and digital careers, including round two of the Fast Track Digital Workforce Fund to address locally identified digital skills gaps.

Digital inclusion and enablement are also prominent objectives in Greater Manchester’s Living with Covid Resilience Plan and Digital Blueprint.

Lou Cordwell, Co-chair of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, said:

“Now more than ever, Greater Manchester’s small and independent businesses need a strong online presence to reach their markets.

“Restrictions have been necessary to slow the pandemic, but the resulting decline in footfall has seen many businesses with physical locations lose out on customers. Many don’t have the skills or budget to adapt quickly.

“Digital enablement is a key pillar of both our Local Industrial Strategy and our campaign to Build Back Better. This latest initiative is therefore a welcome one and serves as another great example of how public and private sectors collaborate in Greater Manchester.”

Sarah Novotny, Digital, Creative and Tech Sector Business Support Lead, GC Business Growth Hub, said: 

“Over recent months, we have seen a marked increase in the number of Greater Manchester businesses requesting digital innovation support, as they see an increasing need to be online in order to thrive in this ever-changing environment. “GM Digital Drive” is an excellent opportunity for our local business community to create, test and develop a new or existing digital presence, whilst also utilising the skills and expertise of GC Business Growth Hub and THG. Most importantly, it is available to businesses of all scales and sizes including freelancers, sole traders and micro-businesses.

“We are delighted to be partnering with GMCA and THG to deliver this exciting new initiative which further adds to the extensive suite of fully funded support, resources and guidance that is currently available through the Hub, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Businesses can access the offer via the GC Business Growth Hub website

Further information on Greater Manchester’s Digital Inclusion Agenda for Change available online