Lancaster University business support programme leading the way for SME growth
A programme of business support has seen Lancaster University work with around 700 SMEs and help inject almost £1/2bn into the regional economy.
An independent assessment of the 12 European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) projects currently being led or supported by the University confirmed 900 full time jobs had also been created or protected in Lancashire and Cumbria as a result.
The analysis by independent economic development consultancy, Ekosgen, saw 190 businesses surveyed to assess the impact the support they had received had had on their organisation.
Dion Williams, Director of Research, Enterprise and Innovation at Lancaster University, said: “These results are unprecedented and really show the return on investment from investing in projects which help grow our economy, in line with the UK’s Industrial Strategy.
“For a relatively low initial investment, you can see the huge difference it makes when SMEs get the support they need to develop and grow their business. Added to that is the fact that SMEs make up 99.7 per cent of all business in Lancashire which means that growth in this area has a major impact on employment in our region.
“We brought in Ekosgen to provide us with an accurate and independent assessment of our work to date, as we have other projects coming on line and wanted to ensure what we were offering was fit for purpose and gave appropriate value for the beneficiaries and for the funders.
“While we always felt we were taking the right approach, we were delighted to see some of the results which came out of the report.
“We’ve always been a civic university and supporting business and the local economy is extremely important for us. For an institution the size of Lancaster, we are well ahead of the game in this area.”
The report found that for every pound of the £27.5m invested by European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) in the various projects, the beneficiaries received £18 of value. Remarkably, this is forecast to rise to £28 - or £770m value added - by the time the programme completes. Of all those surveyed, 99 per cent also said they felt the projects they were involved with were appropriately delivered.
Prof Dame Sue Black, Pro-Vice Chancellor for engagement at Lancaster University said: “Earlier this year, Lancaster University chose to sign up to the Civic Universities Agreement, recognising its roles and responsibilities as an anchor institution in the region.
“The outcomes from the ESIF projects are remarkable and evidences the value that a strong university can play in local and regional development.”
Some of the projects assessed include:
• The Health Innovation Campus business development project to support 300 Lancashire SMEs in the health space to explore opportunities for product and service development
• The Lancashire Forum – a six-month programme to help senior decision makers of SMEs grow their businesses, delivered by Lancaster University Management School and the Boost; Lancashire’s business growth hub
• Cumbria Innovations Platform - a six-month programme designed for Cumbria-based SMEs to explore new markets or ideas for product and service development
Business which have benefitted from these projects include:
• Redmoor Health – a Preston-based digital communications company which worked with the Health innovation Campus team to produce an artificial intelligence system for an NHS breast screening unit. Cameron Booth, Digital Analyst at Redmoor Health, said: “This collaboration is about to deliver a really exciting digital solution, which we believe could be utilised in different ways across the health sector. We had a really positive experience working with the team at Lancaster University.”
• Mente – a Preston-based workplace mental health company which worked with the Health Innovation Campus team to create a digital system to improve transparency around Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) Founder Mel Joseph said: “I couldn’t have done it without Lancaster University. A university isn’t just there for teaching students – it’s there to help business.”
• Intelligent Payroll – this Blackburn firm joined the Lancashire Forum and developed a strategy to help the business grow. Managing Director Minhaz Moosa said: “It definitely gave me the tools to grow the business, and the fact that you’ve got 15-20 other business owners to bounce ideas off means every time you meet you learn something new.”
• ClearTrace – this Lancaster company found being part of the Lancashire Forum allowed them to take a more strategic approach to business. Managing Director Adam Murfitt said: “I wanted to give myself a shot in the arm, to spur things along – and it’s done that. It got me looking beyond the day-to-day running of the business. We’re now able to look at developing into all sorts of new markets and I’d be surprised if Lancaster University didn’t continue to play a large part in that.”
• Jaybox – the Penrith-based business had already successfully designed, manufactured and distributed a bespoke touch-screen jukebox before joining the Cumbria Innovations Platform, which helped the company clarify its ongoing strategy. Sales Director Jamie Barnett said: “It helped us see how we needed a new product – or products – and we needed to push for that. It also changed our view on what the market wanted, and the kind of company we’d be, moving forward.”
• EJ Jordan - a Windermere based company which creates high-end in-home speaker systems found it revisited its entire strategy after joining the Cumbria Innovations Platform. Director Colin Shelbourn said: “The programme gives you a lot of extra confidence about how you tackle things, creates the space to question what you’re doing – and then helps you find a better way to do it.”