In recent years UWE Bristol has led a number of consultancy initiatives which have successfully supported the research and innovation needs of small businesses, boosted productivity and enhanced the University’s contribution to the regional economy.
These have included support for 1,650 SMEs through its Innovation Networks (iNet). This is backed by £7m European Regional Development Funds, and has created or safeguarded around 1,000 jobs, 500 new or improved products and added £28m to the economy.
Additionally, UWE’s Innovation 4 Growth (I4G) programme has used more than £7m of Regional Growth Fund monies to provide some of the South West’s most innovative SMEs with funding for research and development projects. This has enabled the development of new or improved products, technologies, processes and services. Offering grants of between £25k and £150k, each programme covers up to 35% of total project costs. The second round of funding is currently underway, but the first round alone used £3.2m of public funding to leverage £7.7m of private sector R&D investment and to create or safeguard almost 450 jobs.
UWE has also provided expertise and assistance to over 20 South West businesses, including start-ups, social enterprises and well-known high street brands, as the primary delivery partner for Universities South West’s ERDF funded Innovation Voucher programme. They offered practical support which helped to strengthen businesses, create new products, streamline processes so that SMEs could create new services and develop a competitive edge. Through gaining access to University expertise and facilities not available commercially, SMEs are able to improve their competitive advantage and helped embed new knowledge and a culture of innovation.
For example, the Motivation Charitable Trust is a Bristol based charity and social enterprise that provides wheelchairs and mobility programmes to disabled people globally. Motivation’s engagement with the university through an Innovate UK funded Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) facilitated its evolution from a small charity into a fast-growing, commercially focused social enterprise with a sustainable trading income, that reinvests its profits back into the business.
Turnover increased by more than £800k to £1.26m, with surplus income (unrestricted funds) rising by 50% to more than £240k. Four new jobs were also created as a result of the project. With regard to social impact, at the start of the KTP Motivation was delivering 2,500 wheelchairs annually – this had increased to 10,000 by the end.
The Partnership has laid the foundation for Motivation to achieve its strategic objective of becoming self-financed, with an annual income of £12m, by 2020. Commenting on the business’s recent contract with the Indian government, which will enable it to provide more than 100,000 wheelchairs per year in that country, Richard Frost, its Co-Founder and CEO, said: “The KTP gave us the solid foundation on which to embrace that kind of growth opportunity.”
UWE Bristol has also helped Recycling Technologies Ltd – a Swindon based SME – developing innovative solutions to turn Mixed Plastic Waste into a valuable resource. The University initially engaged with this fast growing SME in 2013 through the iNet South West network, providing the funding and academic expertise required for the completion of a ‘technology carbon audit’.
This initial project enabled the company to quantify the environmental benefits it could offer clients, reinforcing the financial benefits its innovations already offered. Following the employment of a graduate intern, the company had progressed to the point where more intensive collaboration with UWE was required. This took the form of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership, facilitating access to both a high caliber graduate and the University’s academic expertise in order to continue the pace of its technical innovation and to help deliver sustainable commercial growth.
Since the KTP has been underway, Recycling Technologies has also received an ERDF funded Innovation Voucher and a research and development grant through UWE’s Innovation 4 Growth programme. These enabled it to accelerate its innovation further and develop a working prototype. Engagement will continue into 2016. UWE has already helped Recycling Technologies to secure a grant though the Department of Energy and Climate Change and will also be a collaborating partner in an Innovate UK funded collaborative R&D project.