Strive UK – the programme helping small businesses to digitise

Mastercard has launched a huge drive to digitise British small firms. Kelly Devine, divisional president of UK & Ireland, explains her mission
Kelly Devine

Small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy. They create over half of the nation’s combined revenue and employ more than two in five people; it is difficult to overstate their importance. Despite this, small businesses across all sectors were hit extraordinarily hard by the pandemic, and many suffered significant revenue losses that are still having an impact on both the way that business is being done today and growth prospects for the future.

The importance of technology

At Mastercard, we have long been dedicated to supporting small businesses and driving financial inclusion more broadly. Last year we made a $250 million commitment to support small businesses’ financial security, and efforts are underway to bring in a total of one billion people and 50 million micro and small businesses into the digital economy by 2025.

We knew that to help UK businesses in the most impactful way, we first needed to understand their day-to-day reality. To do so, we commissioned a report - ‘Striving to Thrive: The state of play for micro and small businesses’ - from the Centre for Economics and Business Research to shed light on the UK’s small business landscape.

The report found that there is an estimated £827 billion growth opportunity for the UK’s small and micro businesses, but there is a significant risk that they will miss out on this if they are not supported to digitise. Already, we have seen just how important digital tools and technology have been for small business survival through the pandemic, with 41% of small business owners saying their company would not have survived without digital tools.

As we look ahead and the nation’s small businesses consider growth prospects in the post-pandemic economy, support using digital tools is cited by business owners as the most important factor in achieving their growth aspirations, following funding and government support packages.

It’s essential to growth too - a further 47% believe technology will become more important to their company’s success over the next five years, while 45% note that use of technology has already helped them to expand their customer base, and around a third say technological adoption has led to increased turnover and increased profit. What was clear from the report is that technology has already proved a vital lifeline for many small businesses through the pandemic and is considered critical to future success and growth.

Uncovering a disconnect

Despite the widely acknowledged recognition of the role of technology and digital tools in small business success and growth, Cebr exposed a concerning disconnect between sentiment and action - small business owners recognised the importance of technology and were keen to use it more, but lacked the support and guidance needed to implement it in their business.

The data found that 39% of small business owners feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice, and while 32% want to use more digital tools they are unsure which ones would be best for their business. This uncertainty rises to 49% in the case of businesses that are owned or run by individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds, highlighting a need for highly tailored, focused support.

What is Strive?

Armed with an in-depth understanding of the challenges and opportunities for small business owners in the UK, we drew on our expertise and resources to create a programme that would directly support the nation’s small business owners to thrive: Strive UK.

Launched in September 2021 by Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth, Strive UK has been set up to act as a free resource for small business owners across the country, helping them to navigate the digital economy, build relationships and communities, and ultimately realise their growth ambitions. It is a philanthropic programme that will support 650,000 UK micro and small businesses over the next three years, empowering them to succeed through free guidance, helpful tools, and personalised, one-to-one mentoring. There will be a special focus on businesses owned or run by women or those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

We’ve partnered with three organisations, Enterprise Nation, Digital Boost and Be the Business, who will be instrumental in implementing different elements of the Strive programme. For example, this includes an online ‘One Stop Shop’ for entrepreneurs with advice on all areas of growing their business as well as 1:1 support for businesses to identify the right digital tools for them.

Working alongside our partners, and complementing Government initiatives such as Help to Grow, Strive UK can move the dial for hundreds of thousands of businesses across the nation as we recover from the pandemic and look to build a more inclusive economy.

How to get involved

Any micro or small business owner or employee in the UK can access and benefit from the Strive programme. The first step is to register, which small businesses from any industry can do here: www.mastercard.co.uk/strive.

We are also in the process of building up a bank of content designed to help business owners develop and hone critical skills needed to grow their organisation. This includes masterclasses offering actionable guidance on how to build a digital business, how to harness the power of social media to grow your brand, and how to run a successful business alongside a family.

Written by
Kelly Devine
Written by
December 16, 2021