Covid leads to growth at Digital Greenhouse

Ben Wratten, program and engagement manager at Digital Greenhouse, whose services were in increasing demand as businesses responded to Covid restrictions. (Photo by Sophie Rabey, 30501259)

The digital greenhouse has welcomed 150 new businesses over the past two years, including businesses started by local residents and newcomers.

Program and engagement manager Ben Wratten said changes in the circumstances of islanders have caused many to reassess their options.

“With the layoffs that resulted from the first lockdown and with a number of island expats looking to return, we’ve seen a lot of people take the plunge and decide to expand their passion projects,” he said.

“We’ve also had massive interest from digital nomads, who are able to run their businesses online and don’t need to be tied to a location.”

A couple from England had recently moved to Guernsey after returning from South East Asia, he said, as they had been made aware of Guernsey’s relatively Covid-free environment and had the prospect of using the digital hub to operate their business.

The influx of new start-ups is not exclusively coming from digital companies, but also from other small-footprint companies.

“We’ve had people start as a hedgerow vegetable operation and they’ve been able to use our facilities to grow and market their business,” Mr. Wratten said.

The digital greenhouse was set up in 2015 by the then Department for Trade and Employment, under former deputy Kevin Stewart, and opened the following year.

Mr Wratten said it was a new concept for Guernsey and the location chosen in Market Street was perfect as it was a hub of the city.

There are allocated offices and shared offices on the upper floor and dozens of companies that used the allocated spaces eventually moved into their own premises.

The number of employees has recently increased from 3.5 full-time equivalent positions to 5.5 and, in terms of service users, the facility has been at approximately 80% capacity over the past year, although with peaks and troughs.

The St Peter Port facility operates under the auspices of economic development and is seen as playing a key role in promoting states’ attempts to boost digital skills and innovation, which along with improving digital infrastructure , has been identified as one of the top 10 priorities for this four-year term.

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