Sarah Allison, Project Manager of Cumbria Innovations Platform, says the county is embracing the entrepreneurial spirit

CUMBRIA and the Lake District is an area that has inspired artists and writers for centuries.

But now the county is proving to be an inspiration for business creativity. Cumbria is embracing the entrepreneurial spirit, with small businesses setting up in every town and village.

It’s the perfect life and work balance. Thanks to digital technology and connectivity you don’t have to be a huge corporate firm these days to reach out to global markets.

Here in Cumbria you can match a fabulous lifestyle – can there be anywhere better to live? – with a creative business. A small company based in Windermere, for example, can be trading with the world.

And the people who are running these businesses, or making a start in setting them up, have a wealth of knowledge, advice and expertise on which to call. From a small office on the university campus in Ambleside, in the heart of the Lakes, the Cumbria Innovations Platform is rolling out a big programme to help businesses across the region.

The programme is supported by the European Regional Development Fund and is provided by the universities of Cumbria and Lancaster.

It aims to support innovation and help boost economic growth in Cumbria by providing small and medium enterprises with a competitive edge, combining the capabilities of various departments from the universities to provide bespoke business support.

Engineering, management, chemistry, physics, computing and other departments pool their resources to enable multifaceted, tailored business support and allow business owners to explore new ideas by providing practical and academic guidance.

We want to give businesses the opportunity to learn how innovation and realising ideas can provide business growth. And at the same time we want to boost economic growth in Cumbria by providing these micro, small and medium enterprises with a competitive edge.

The proliferation of artisan bakeries, small brewers and digital specialists are examples of Cumbria’s new business dynamism. But business has to adapt and respond to market changes. We are determined to help them do this.

Around 200 businesses have benefitted so far, through workshops, events and help from student internships. They include the Institute for Outdoor Learning, Willison Parry, the online coaching and mentoring firm, and the tour guide Solway Connections.

We’re getting a lot of requests for support with digital projects at the moment. There’s a desire for organisations to reach out to more customers and clients and a big expansion in online trading and commerce.

We want to give businesses the opportunity to learn how innovation and realising ideas can provide business growth. There are opportunities to see how digital technology can support growth and help businesses to understand consumer behaviour. Immersive technology is being used more and more so, particularly for events and attractions.

One recent workshop focused on intellectual property rights and learning how to protect ideas; another provided coaching skills for innovation and creative thinking.

There’s also an Eco Innovations project, which is offering help for small businesses in the county that want to do something for the environment, to reduce their carbon footprint, save resources, and save money at the same time.

They offer a variety of free workshops and events around Cumbria to explore innovation challenges with care for the environment at their heart.

We have another year of the project to run, so there’s even more we can do.

Look out for our workshops, which are held regularly around the county, and see what we can do to help you become part of a prosperous Cumbria.

It’s an exciting time for small businesses, a brave new world.