A key element of developing Ireland's digital presence has been to encourage small businesses to discover the economic potential of the Internet. The Trading Online Voucher Scheme assists small businesses that are not yet trading online, to develop their ecommerce capability, pairing training with financial support of up to €2,500. This is a demand-led scheme, for which I have secured up to €3 million to support a further 1,500 small businesses in 2018 to grow and diversify their markets through trading online.
The scheme targets a broad range of businesses including retail, food, professional services, arts and crafts, and manufacturing. It encourages businesses to invest their own resources in developing their digital capability to target their customers effectively. A business may apply for matched funding to a maximum value of €2,500. The average drawdown payment by applicants under the scheme is €1,800, with over 80% of expenditure relating to direct web development costs.
The Scheme has been highly effective in achieving its objectives with 4,300 vouchers approved to date and over 10,000 businesses benefitting from training delivered by the Local Enterprise Offices since 2014. Businesses, both urban and rural, who participate grow their sales on average by 21%, increase employment by 35% and 3 out of 5 begin exporting for the first time.
My aim is to help even more businesses to trade online. My Department is currently scoping initiatives to build on the success of the scheme, including the development of a national website infrastructure for online application to the scheme to make it easier for more businesses to apply and for businesses to obtain information when developing their online trading presence businesses. Furthermore over 500 small business owners across the country have participated in digital literacy training under the Getting Citizens Online programme.