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MI universities help businesses with covid recovery

Universities from the Midlands Innovation partnership are working on initiatives to support businesses as they start to get back up and running.

The universities are providing a range of services, from funding, to business support programmes, to advice, information and even research to inform future government policy.

Advice and information

The Midlands Innovation universities have acted swiftly in order to use their expertise to help businesses.

The Enterprise Research Centre, which is run by the universities of Aston and Warwick, has established a new business and diagnostic recovery tool called GROWTHmapper, to help develop a business survival and recovery plan in the context of the Covid19 crisis, working in conjunction with an accredited coach or advisor.

Also at Aston University, the Aston Means Business podcasts are looking at how SMEs are adapting to the challenges of the coronavirus, providing valuable insights and lessons for other businesses and entrepreneurs.

The University of Warwick is also running a podcast providing advice to businesses, and has also been delivering free webinars to help businesses with the challenges as a result of COVID-19.

Cranfield University has launched a new, free, online resource hub for businesses developed by Cranfield School of Management. The Knowledge Hub Platform hosts videos, podcasts and live events on many business aspects. Topics include business resilience, how to adapt, leadership, cyber resilience, the future of work and HR.

At Keele University, a new series of webinars – Keele Talks Business – was established to address the local business community’s questions and concerns regarding the ongoing pandemic, as well as discussing strategies to support their recovery. Topics covered so far include tax, funding, marketing, sustainability, working from home and a regional view of the Local Enterprise Partnership. Born out of the webinar series, there is also a ‘Keele Talks Business’ podcast series.

In the East Midlands, the University of Nottingham has launched a support hub for business, with information and resources including a series of webinars to help businesses to navigate the crisis, while Loughborough University’s ‘Experts in Sport’ podcast is using its world-renowned sports expertise to examine how training methods can be adapted to enable professional athletes to hit the ground running as they return to competitive sport.

Business support

MI universities are running schemes which provide subsidised expertise for businesses.

At the University of Leicester, the Leicester Innovation Hub is a £5.1m European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programme which enables businesses to launch new ideas and also provides a dedicated incubation and innovation space, making it easier for companies to utilise innovation support, expertise and facilities.

For businesses in the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire areas, the University of Nottingham’s Productivity Through Innovation programme, part-funded by ERDF, gives SMEs the opportunity to access the University’s postgraduates through 100-hour or 200-hour project placements, delivered remotely.

While at Cranfield University, its Business Growth Response Programme supports thousands of small and medium businesses during COVID-19 and has recently supported its 2,000th participant since it began just after lockdown started at the end of March.

Keele University is running a range of programmes to support businesses, including a research and innovation support programme, helping businesses to innovate and develop new products, processes and services.

In addition, a New Enterprise Bootcamp, funded by ERDF, is helping entrepreneurs fully realise their goals by challenging their business plans and validating their products.

For businesses that are operating in healthcare markets and their supply chains, Keele University’s Business Bridge programme provides technical advice, collaborative working and product validation, redeemable through Innovation Vouchers worth up to £5,000.

Aston University runs several SME support programmes, including Addressing the Productivity Challenges of Microbusinesses that are owned and run in disadvantaged communities in the West Midlands.

Small and medium businesses in the Black Country, Birmingham, Coventry and Warwickshire are being offered additional free support to help them overcome some of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic through the Birmingham Energy Institute’s SME Engagement Programme, ATETA. This offers businesses help with writing funding applications, drafting proposals, and producing CAD drawings of products.

Building sustainable businesses

Sustainability is still a key priority for many businesses, and Keele University’s Smart Energy Network Demonstrator project is able to support local businesses with research projects linked to smart, renewable and low carbon energy technologies.

The University of Birmingham is running a support programme for SMEs to improve their use of raw and waste materials. The ARLI (Alternative Raw Materials with Low Impact) programme, funded by ERDF, offers advice and support to businesses, helping them develop innovative new products or processes through the use of waste materials as well as reducing carbon footprints.

At EBRI at Aston University, businesses are able to benefit from support through their ERDF funded bioenergy business support programme. Its wide variety of benefits and uses include carbon capture, water treatment, odour control, soil improvement and industrial applications.

At Nottingham the Energy for Business programme offers companies in the D2N2 LEP area the opportunity to undertake subsidised product research and development, business support and capital funding.  

Research to develop best practice

The Midlands Innovation universities are also undertaking research to understand how businesses can recover post-COVID19.

Loughborough University has published a paper in Industrial Marketing Management, which examines the benefits of working with competitors to share information, data, expertise and other capabilities to meet unprecedented demand and operate efficient supply chains.

In addition, Loughborough is also supporting a new industrial collaboration to help rebuild a better infrastructure and construction sector. The restart, reset and reinvention – for Construction Sector Recovery. The plan aims to expand capabilities for infrastructure; housing; repairs, maintenance and improvement; and social and commercial buildings, envisaging a sector that will be more resilient and capable of delivering the demands made upon it.

Retail is a sector that has of course been badly affected by the pandemic. A study by WMG and the University of Warwick has looked at how retailers have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure their survival. The report highlights many points such as the need for future systems to be more robust and responsive, to increase speed and agility in the supply chain.

Cranfield University, the only UK university with its own airport, has issue a report after undertaking research with senior aviation industry executives to reveal the impact of COVID-19 on the air transport sector.

Speaking about the support provided by Midlands Innovation universities to help businesses through the challenges of COVID-19, Dr Helen Turner, Director of Midlands Innovation said: “Businesses are facing immense challenges, and I know that our universities have been doing all that they can to develop relevant programmes and support packages to help them through this unprecedented time. In addition, they have also been undertaking research into the impact of COVID-19 on businesses. This will hopefully help to inform government policy going forward.”

Alec Cameron, Chair of Midlands Innovation and Vice-Chancellor of Aston University added: “Every university in the Midlands Innovation partnership is playing its part in the fight against COVID-19, and building the path back to recovery. A large part of the focus now is on supporting businesses and helping them to get back onto their feet, but we have been doing everything that we possibly can throughout this pandemic.

“At the outset of the lockdown over a thousand of our medical staff and students volunteered to work on the frontline of the NHS. From our universities we also provided a large quantity of PPE from our laboratories, and made specialist equipment available for testing and other purposes. Several of our universities have also been involved in the international medical research efforts to find drugs to combat the virus.”

For more information about the work of Midlands Innovation universities sign up to receive their regular eNewsletter highlighting what partners are doing to support efforts to fight the coronavirus, and other initiatives that are taking place. 

To discover more about the work of the Midlands Innovation universities, follow the Twitter account @InnovationMids.