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Study provides blueprint to boost Peterborough’s digital economy

Posted: 09/08/2022

A feasibility study commissioned by economic development company, Opportunity Peterborough, has made the case for a digital incubator to help support small digital businesses and significantly grow the digital economy in the city.

A business incubator provides specialist support such as coaching, networking, and access to investment, that can help start-ups and entrepreneurs build their businesses faster and better, increasing competitiveness and supporting greater job creation.

The study was funded through the Towns Fund launched by the Government’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). Recommendations from the study have already been used to develop a bid to the Shared Prosperity Fund for £345,000 to launch the first phase of a digital incubator.

To assess whether a digital incubator was needed, the study analysed the local market demand, the suitability of local premises, and feedback from consultations with local digital businesses, educational institutions, and workspace providers.

The findings show that Peterborough’s digital economy is growing but could grow a lot faster with a digital incubator. There is a heavy concentration of larger digital businesses who are performing well, but smaller digital companies need dedicated specialist support to achieve faster growth. Through a digital incubator, Peterborough could address skills gaps, help entrepreneurs develop their business and ideas, and encourage more people into digital careers.

The city’s low cost and high-growth economy was cited as a great advantage for start-up digital businesses. Peterborough’s strengths in high-tech manufacturing and growth of jobs in knowledge-intensive-businesses (KIBS) also suggest it could support a larger number of digital businesses. In fact, the number of KIBS jobs in Peterborough has grown faster than Cambridge in recent years which indicates a very beneficial environment for digital businesses.

There is also a major opportunity to develop the digital skills the sector needs through collaboration with ARU Peterborough, City College Peterborough, Peterborough College and University Centre Peterborough. An incubator programme could help secure employment for people in digital training, connect graduates with ambitious small businesses, and encourage entrepreneurship.

The report made a series of recommendations for the next steps Peterborough can take to develop its own digital incubator:

  • Adopt a pre-accelerator programme to support students, entrepreneurs, and small businesses (subject of the Shared Prosperity Fund bid)
  • Continue engagement with education providers, digital businesses and local network to build support for a digital incubator
  • Identify a potential partner for a joint venture, or an operator for a digital incubator space
  • Identify a building or site that links with growth aspirations to make the city centre even more of a go-to destination for visitors, commuters and residents.
  • Work with the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority to ensure the digital incubator aligns with regional strategy and unlocks funding opportunities

In line with the study’s recommendations, the bid to the Shared Prosperity Fund included support for digital businesses and students studying computer science courses, as well as outreach work to encourage people into digital careers.

The full report can be read online here.

Tom Hennessy, chief executive of Opportunity Peterborough said, “The report clearly shows that Peterborough has a solid foundation for its digital economy. We’re in a digitising world so growing this sector is absolutely vital. It will also underpin growth in areas like manufacturing, warehousing, banking, and even the creative fields as more activities move online.

Matthew Bradbury, independent chair of the Peterborough Towns Fund Board, said: “A digital incubator would also boost aspirations and skill levels in the city with dedicated training for students, residents and the wider workforce. It has strong links and could help to boost other Towns Fund projects already progressing in the city.

Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald, leader of Peterborough City Council said “Our plans for several city centre regeneration sites have included support for digital businesses. A digital incubator would help us create a more vibrant city centre with more businesses and people. Peterborough has a resilient and growing economy and a digital incubator would definitely boost our future growth.”

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