Aston University has received funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to work with companies to help them increase their competitiveness through innovation.
A new Innovation Voucher Scheme will allow small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the West Midlands to apply for a voucher worth £1,500 to directly link to academic support available at Aston and other knowledge base providers. The project aims to build links between universities and SMEs by creating a demand-led approach to supporting the innovation process.
The scheme will also provide the opportunity for free support in the form of workshops to help companies to become more competitive and manage growth effectively. The workshops, run by academics from Aston Business School, will include advice on accessing and raising funds, utilising support through envisioning the future and understanding management requirements.
Aston has a long established history of working with SMEs. A similar innovation voucher scheme was launched by the University in 2009 and following its success, was rolled out nationally by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB). 660 SMEs benefited from the original Innovation Voucher Scheme, with 56% businesses continuing to work with the University afterwards.
The scheme also complements a range of other business support services available at Aston. The University can offer advice to businesses about how to attract industrial and commercial research funding, provide information on student and graduate recruitment, as well as the specialist training on offer through professional development programmes.
Dr Phil Extance, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Business Partnerships at Aston University said: ‘We are delighted to have secured funding from ERDF to launch this exciting scheme at the University. We pride ourselves on the close relationships we have with industry and the impact our research can have on helping businesses to grow in challenging times. We recognise that SMEs often struggle to access the expertise available in universities. We hope that this scheme will support innovation in the West Midlands by encouraging research and development in SMEs by building stronger links with universities and their academics.
Norman Price, Deputy Chair of the West Midlands ERDF Local Management Committee said: ‘The experience of the first phase of Innovation Vouchers was that the approach appealed to businesses and access to bespoke support helped a number of those businesses stimulate growth. This new phase will build on this, with the added benefit of access to specialised workshops to improve innovation-related skills. Evidence suggests that these vouchers introduce companies to universities which many of them continue to use in the future for everyone’s benefit.’
He added: ‘It’s really important that we are able to provide products that businesses find beneficial, and I am delighted that we have been able to do this for the next two years.’
This new scheme is available to SMEs based in the West Midlands. To be eligible, companies must employ less than 250 people and have an annual turnover less than £50 million or a balance sheet total of less than £43 million. Participants will be invited to attend three workshops, but must be willing to attend, as a minimum, one two-day workshop.
For further information about Aston University’s Innovation Vouchers Scheme, please contact Caroline Smeeton email@example.com. To discover more about how your business can benefit from working with Aston University, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 0121 204 4242.
Notes to Editors
The Innovation Vouchers 2012 project is part financed by the European Regional Development Fund Programme 2007 to 2013. The Department for Communities and Local Government is the managing authority for the European Regional Development Fund Programme, which is one of the funds established by the European Commission to help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support local businesses and create jobs. For more information visit www.gov.uk/browse/business/funding-debt/european-regional-development-funding