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Aston University pilots revolutionary innovation voucher scheme

27 November 2006 – for immediate release

With grants of almost �350,000, Aston University is launching a new regional innovation voucher scheme which is set to revolutionise the way businesses interact with universities.

Entitled INnovation Delivers EXpansion (INDEX), the two-year pilot project will build on a highly successful model currently in operation in the Netherlands, where 80 per cent of the initial vouchers issued to 1,100 SMEs generated research and development projects that would not have been possible without the voucher system. The main conclusion drawn from the Netherlands scheme was that innovation vouchers stimulate SMEs to engage in many new assignments with public research institutes.

Under Aston’s scheme, 80 high-growth SMEs in the West Midlands region will apply for and use innovation vouchers to articulate their requirements which will be matched to leading-edge academic expertise. The key objective of the scheme is to harness appropriate research to match the demand-led needs of high-growth SMEs and thus enhance the innovation capability of the businesses concerned.

Although the scheme will be administered from Aston, all of the universities in the region have agreed to participate. The scheme will be linked into the agendas of the local regional business agencies to maximise the ‘use value’ to the SME community. The INDEX partnership has already secured indicative support for this initiative from the Institute of Asian Businesses, the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Development Agency - Advantage West Midlands, as well as the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) and West Midlands CBI.

‘This is tremendous news for West Midlands SMEs and all of the universities in the region,’ said Richard Lambert, Director-General of CBI. ‘When I undertook the review of universities and their links with business this is the type of project that looked most promising and I’m delighted that the funding for this pilot has now been brought together. The key feature is that it will be demand-led by business, which will be able to access an extensive range of expertise.’

Aston was granted �247,000 from Advantage West Midlands (AWM) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for the original scheme, but has also won a further �100,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under their Knowledge Transfer Challenge awards initiative.

‘The future of technology transfer lies in unique schemes like INDEX that generate true user involvement, so Aston is delighted to be co-ordinating such a scheme,’ said John Bailey, Director of Aston University’s Business Partnership Unit, the department that facilitated INDEX. ‘The KT Challenge award is further proof of how much national support projects like this are generating.’

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For further press information please contact Paul Burkwood on (0121) 204 4258.

Notes to editors:

The business support agencies endorsing this proposal will help identify 80 high-growth SMEs for involvement in the innovation voucher scheme and the criteria for the selection of relevant organisations will be agreed with the INDEX Governance Group. Once identified, the SME will select the academic service they require and Aston University will act as broker to nominate the most appropriate expertise to meet this need from across the regional HEIs. The businesses will be given innovation vouchers to the value of �3,000 each to purchase academic support to improve their innovation capability.

The INDEX pilot project will be based on an agreed governance framework. This will include an IP policy statement and an open framework to encourage knowledge sharing. It is proposed that, if agreed by the INDEX Governance Group, the pilot project will be independently monitored and evaluated. There is memorandum of understanding already in place between Aston University and the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and the Institute of Asian Business (IAB) and it is proposed that they will recruit representatives from the ’user community’ to join the INDEX Governance Group – other members will be sought from project partners.

The timescale for activity is given below with the distribution of innovation vouchers structured into two waves during the pilot project (March 2007 and November 2007).

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