COMPANIES in rural Scotland are being given a £100,000 boost to help create “digital communities” in a pilot scheme to help them expand and improve their connections with customers.

The funding will go towards the Smart Villages Scotland pilot which will include networking events and online mentoring – partnering young entrepreneurs with older business owners to enable them to exchange skills.

A Smart Village is a “super-connected” community, which is either based around a settlement, a cluster of settlements or a community of interest.

Under the initiative, the traditional term village is stretched so the settlements can range in size from a hamlet to a small town – becoming digital communities promoting enterprise support and connectivity for rural businesses.

It is a collaborative project which has received funding from Scottish Enterprise, the Rural Perth and Kinross Leader Programme and Perth and Kinross Council. The Scottish Government also supported the first phase of the project with £60,000 of funding.

Throughout the next year the network is aiming to stretch across the whole of Scotland, connecting existing and potential Smart Villages. By becoming a Smart Village, the rural communities will benefit from connecting into this dynamic network in a number of ways.

They will be able to stay up to date with what is going on in other settlements, along with adding to the discussion surrounding smart, connected villages and sharing best practice. They will also be able to put their community and campaigns on the map by posting news or submitting articles through the GrowBiz network, which is delivering the Smart Villages Scotland pilot.

Through this, the communities will have their voices heard at national level and connect with other smart communities and organisations from across the world.

Mairi Gougeon, Rural Affairs Minister, said: “We want Scotland’s rural economy to support and sustain vibrant and flourishing communities, and to provide a range of employment opportunities for local residents. This new funding has the potential to achieve this and bring real benefits and growth to rural businesses.

“It is extremely important that we recognise and fulfil the potential of technology to deliver a diverse range of services and support.

“The Smart Villages Scotland project will prioritise digital upskilling and create a network of enterprise ‘hotspots’ throughout rural Scotland.”

Jackie Brierton, chief executive of GrowBiz, added: “Over the past three years, GrowBiz has worked with more than 1000 rural entrepreneurs in Perthshire and this pilot project will enable us to extend our successful peer-learning, mentoring and networking approach to enterprises in other parts of rural Scotland.

“Using a Smart Village model, the project will work collaboratively with local businesses and communities, increasing the use of digital applications and contributing to an inclusive and vibrant rural economy.”