Tom Keighley

Leicester design company benefit from University knowledge

Leicester-based design agency Bulb Studios has nearly doubled turnover and created new jobs as a result of support from the University of Leicester School of Management.

Under a scheme run by the Technology Strategy Board, through the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the firm has developed its own IT products in addition to providing services in web and software design, film-making, photography and music production.

Turnover in the last 12 months has gone from £700,000 to £1.2m and overall staffing levels from 8 to 18.

This growth for the small company on New Walk, could eventually lead to the establishment of London and US satellite offices.

Dr William Green, lecturer in innovation and operations and knowledge management, is using a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) project funding to help the Bulb design teams better understand user-centred design to ensure new software applications are intuitive and engaging.

Six months into the two-year project, the company has developed a mobile market research app, which has been adopted by several leading market research companies.

The CrowdLab app improves the way market research data is collected and analysed, and has already contributed £500,000 company turnover, and four full-time jobs.

The project has enabled the University to apply its knowledge, and transfer the latest management practices to local company owners.

Jim Willis, co-founder of Bulb, said: “We have great ambitions for the company and are very proud to be based in Leicester, but we recognised the need for greater expertise to take us into a whole new area of product design and development.

“The Knowledge Transfer Partnership suits our needs well and has allowed the employment of a full time computing-science KTP Associate to work on Crowd Lab, Dr Asma Adnane.

“We have regular advisory meetings with Dr Green, who has also delivered training in user-centred design, so we feel very well supported.”

Dr Green brings experience of research and development and operational practices of major blue-chip organisations, having worked for the likes of IBM, Philips Research and Vodafone.

He said: “We chose to work with Bulb Studios because we could see the potential for growth in their plans and existing management capabilities.

“We have seen rapid progress already and the continued adoption of user-centred design will strengthen the commercialisation of the new mobile market research app.

“As a researcher, I’m interested in watching Bulb’s organic growth, supporting product development and organisational change, and my students are always interested to hear about how the work is going.”

The next phase of development for Crowd Lab is to ensure the product design is scalable and multi-lingual. Two more designers are due to be appointed, and the app is already being used by a Chinese market research agency.

Professor Kevin Schürer, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise says: “Our work with Bulb illustrates the impact that applying university-based expertise – in this case from the School of Management - can have in a highly-receptive small, enterprising company.

“Working through the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme makes this possible at a time when firms struggle to find the internal know-how to innovate and stay competitive.”

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