ENVIRONMENTAL and renewable technologies hub Bicton EaRTH has secured a £300,000 cash boost to enable it to develop a flexible workspace for new and expanding businesses.
The centre at Bicton College near East Budleigh has won a share of £2.9m from the Government's Rural Growth Network initiative.
The pot of cash distributed by the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership will create more than 700 jobs across Devon and Somerset, it has been claimed.
Devon will see an investment of £1m, supporting projects which expect to create 686 new jobs, boosting the economy by an anticipated £39m by providing the opportunities and infrastructure rural businesses need to grow.
At Bicton, an old farmhouse will be converted to provide accommodation for up to 19 start-up businesses, mainly working in the sustainability sector.
Chris Lorimer, Bicton's director of enterprise, said: "There will be space for hot desks and for businesses to be sited in a very agreeable setting on a working farm. With the £300,000 we can do what we need to get the building open. We have planning permission and will be starting work later this month.
"We will be doing some work ourselves but the majority will be using local contractors, so that's good for the local economy, and as a result we expect some apprenticeships to be created."
The first businesses are expected to move in early next year.
Other successful projects include Opportunity Okehampton, which has received £150,000 towards developing the site next to Okehampton Business Centre for business expansion and growth.
Somerset will also see an investment of around £1m to continue the creation of a network of enterprise centres. The remaining funds will be used on revenue projects throughout the two counties, details of which are still being finalised.
HotSW is one of just five LEPs selected to deliver a pilot Rural Growth Network.
Tim Jones, chairman of HotSW, said: "This funding is a vital lifeline for our rural communities and economy. It represents a major commitment to achieve growth throughout Devon and Somerset and is designed to reach the most remote rural communities.
"It is vital that we enhance the enormous potential of our many rural enterprises and encourage the growth of new rural businesses."
Meanwhile, Bicton EaRTH has teamed up with Exeter's Atlantic Training to deliver a new renewables course, aimed at electricians wishing to enter the domestic solar PV market.
Graham Waddell, head of EaRTH, said: "This is an exciting time for us.
"Although we have run a number of successful training courses and events at the centre since it opened last year, this is the first installer training course to be offered through a partnership with a local supplier."