Advice & support to local SMEs; particularly a funding service that helps businesses understand available options, and supports them to write funding bids
It is quite common for the technology SMEs which the University engages with to have limited knowledge of what funding is available for innovation, and how (or indeed have the time) to submit a good application. In order to increase the level of innovation activity especially where it involves academic input from the University, the innovation team provides a writing service to remove the barrier of funding take up.
This meets the objectives as reflected in the evidence of success in the following section. The support has been particularly useful where the company has not had experience of applying for funding generally or to particular fund holders. This experience provides the company with the skills to write future applications. The writing service support is available if the University is involved in the bid, or at a cost to the SME if not. There is some funding support from another regional project in the latter circumstance.
The beneficiaries are primarily the SMEs, the academics where applicable and potentially the customers/end users as the innovation aims to offer a better product
An innovation team supports SMEs on a range of activities, with two full-time employees having the capability and authority to write applications on behalf of businesses. The estimated cost for the service is approximately £100,000. Around 50% of their time is dedicated to writing applications
Evidence of success
The success rate in obtaining funding is an average of 1 in 3 applications submitted. In 2017, this rate was even higher - almost every 1 in 2 applications were successful. In 2018, around 12 applications were made and about 5-6 were awarded funding to fund projects totalling around £4m.
This enabled the University to engage further with the businesses additional support, building a deeper relationship that adds value to the SME, potentially their customers/end users and relevant academics.
The high demand for support, particularly for bid writing, impacts on the team’s ability to help SMEs carry out required innovation activities. The continuation of additional funding to help businesses with no immediate relationship with the University is also a challenge
Potential for learning or transfer
This practice is potentially interesting for other regions because it is likely that it helps to address a barrier common to all the areas where there is a mix of regional, national and European funding options for innovation. It is a simple idea and practice but has high impact for SMEs and researchers, and potentially the customers/end users if the innovation is successful.
It is a practice can be replicated quite easily with the right resource, and if supported by the right policies with the appropriate criteria. For example, regional funding could be made available to part fund the SMEs’ ability to submit good quality applications. One of the by-products of this process is also to ensure that the SME and researcher is developing innovation ideas that have real commercial value and application.