Transformative knowledge: Knowledge exchange forum creates opportunities for businesses to ‘crowdspeak’ and collaborate

Pictured are - Dr Ray Moate (White Jacket), Abdul Saieid & Valerie Hart from 'Fine Tuning'

Plymouth-based manufacturing company Fine Tubes are GAIN Digital Exchange members and worked with Plymouth University’s Electron Microscopy Centre to enhance their precision production process. Pictured are Dr Ray Moate, Abdul Saieid and Valerie Hart from ‘Fine Tuning’

A dynamic online forum for academics and businesses allows members to exchange knowledge, seek expert advice, engage with suppliers and develop potential partnerships through ‘crowdspeaking’.

The GAIN (Growth Acceleration and Investment Network) Digital Exchange was launched in April 2014 by Plymouth University to bring together a wide range of resources in one place for the first time at

The South West regional economy is characterised by geographically dispersed SMEs – and the Gain Digital Exchange enables pre-start, start up and established businesses to share their experiences and source advice and guidance via peer-to-peer networks and suppliers of business support.

Every homepage is unique and intelligently tailored to the user, pulling in relevant information according to their profile – a 25-year-old web designer from Cornwall will see a very different interface to an established manufacturing business in Somerset.

Plymouth Cornwall Glass & Glazing 3

Cornwall Glass – Cornwall Glass & Glazing Ltd has 15 branches across the South West, and were able to create 30 new jobs after accessing a growth fund grant through the GAIN Digital Exchange.

But what is genuinely innovative about the exchange is that in every other respect, the content is demand-led and supplied by users. When a user registers on the exchange, they are asked ‘What are you brilliant at?’ So, whether it is human resources, marketing and communications, or legal matters, when questions crop up from the business community, experts in that field are alerted to the opportunity to share their experience and insight.

Metrics show that questions prompt a responder to begin answering within four seconds. Every day, thousands of pounds worth of free consultation is provided on specific, qualitative areas that just wouldn’t be available anywhere else. This element of ‘crowdspeaking’ is very much aligned to current trends.

The university has exceeded its initial goals of attracting 10,000 users – it has more than 48,800 users from across the globe and over 195,600 pages have been viewed. There are also 2,159 user-contributed articles, reports and blogs, around 750 knowledge transfer contributions – ranging from clinical trials to branding.

The Digital Exchange is integrated into Linkedin and provides access to two grant support engines, finance finder diagnostic tool and peer-to-peer lending models. More than 233 suppliers of business support are registered as partners, and since June 2014, there have been more than 2,000 unique grant searches undertaken by small businesses.

The exchange is also making a significant difference to the University’s engagement with business from an educational perspective – in fact, it is its biggest single engagement tool. Students and academics use this virtual crowd for research, and support staff using the platform to promote services, events, courses.

Again, when registering, businesses have the opportunity to indicate whether they can offer some form of student opportunity, such as an internship, placement or even graduate recruitment. Since launch, it has brought 50 new businesses per week into partnership with the University, and on average 18 new companies contact the institution on a weekly basis to offer some form of student employment, internship or work experience.

Designed to bring together businesses in Devon, Somerset and Cornwall, was made supported by the Peninsula City Deal Growth Hub, which is being delivered in partnership by GAIN.  The Hub was made possible by the Plymouth and South West Peninsula City Deal’s £6 million business support programme, which was announced in January 2014 and was funded through the Government’s Regional Growth Fund (RGF).

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