Supporting businesses to innovate is a major priority for the UK government; it’s what drives productivity and economic growth and creates a more prosperous environment for us all to live and work in. There’s a wealth of knowledge and expertise hidden away in universities that can help businesses to innovate in truly transformative ways, but tapping into that knowledge can sometimes feel challenging. That’s why the University of Nottingham’s Business and Local Partnerships team hosted an event on ‘Funding for Innovation’ this week.
Staff from the University showcased a range of different funding schemes available to help SMEs undertake innovative projects with the University.
First up, Paul Rice, Postgraduate Placements Nottingham (PPN) Manager highlighted the opportunity to work with high-calibre postgraduates for up to 200 hours funded via the ERDF Postgraduate Placements Nottingham scheme. Placing postgraduate students into companies on a part-time basis for between 3-6 months, the PPN scheme offers a seamless process, including recruitment and contracting of a student, allowing the business to focus on the supervision of the student rather than the administration associated with recruitment.
Paul brought along two case study speakers who have benefitted from the PPN scheme, who explained how this enhanced their businesses. Kevin Lindsey of FAR-UK had one student funded through PPN. He spoke highly of how quick and straightforward the process was and the usefulness of being able to easily connect with the right people throughout the university. Mike Stripling of Cobalt Carbon Free Ltd explained how his team and his business grew in unexpected ways after receiving help of the University. He has had three PPN students over the past few years and said that the process has been seamless and the quality of the students has been outstanding, with everyone at the university being friendly and helpful along the way.
Next up, Paul Yeomans, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) Manager took us on a whistle-stop tour of this long-standing, nationally recognised scheme. A KTP is designed to meet a core strategic need within a business and to identify innovative solutions to help the business grow. It’s a three-way partnership between a business, the university (which provides the expertise of an experienced academic), and an associate (usually a postgraduate) who will gain development and training while providing the business with their expertise. A KTP project will typically last between one and three years. Paul outlined a couple of their many successful projects. Pipers Crisps had two projects over seven years which improved the quality, flavour and consistency of their product, helping them to grow within their market before ultimately being bought by PepsiCo. Local company Microlise have had three KTPs over 13 years working on their software systems, during which period they have grown from 40 to 300 employees and now supply companies like JCB and DHL.
And last but not least was Alex Titcomb, Collaborative R&D Officer, who outlined some of the larger-scale collaborative R&D opportunities available via Innovate UK funding. Underpinned by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, Innovate UK funding focuses on four ‘grand challenges’ identified as being critical to UK society, which are Health Ageing, Clean Growth, the Future of Mobility and Artificial Intelligence and Data. Opportunities for funding take the form of ‘competitions’ around set themes, with Alex and the University’s wider Collaborative R&D team available to support with identifying opportunities and partners, as well as writing bids. Alex was keen to stress that although projects must be innovative and fit the competition criteria, it’s better to start with an idea for an innovative project and then looking for the funding.
Alex brought along a case study speaker, Simon McMaster, CSO of Footfalls & Heartbeats, who provided an insight into how his relationship with the university – which started 13 years ago – has been fundamental to shaping the activities of the business today. It all started with a conversation with one of the University’s professors, but this conversation and subsequent relationship with the university helped Simon to kick start his business and turn his ideas into a reality.
If you have an idea for an innovative project or would like to find out more about any of these funding schemes, please get in touch.