Creating an environment for SMEs to innovate

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Stephen Gregory, head of regional development at the University of Huddersfield and the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre (3M BIC) how tapping into the right resources can lead to innovation and growth.

Companies nowadays need to be continually innovating to survive. However, in a rapidly changing environment trying to keep up with the market and competitors can restrict SMEs, with limitations on time, resources and budgets.

Taking the plunge and investing in innovation relies on SMEs taking risks, so how can these risks guarantee success?

It’s all about getting the right support at the right time.

Universities can play a big role in this, and recently more and more businesses are realising the benefits of tapping into academic capabilities to help them improve productivity and performance and progress with innovation.

Technology, student placements and specialist expertise are all aspects that SMEs can exploit. As well as the emergence of new digital technologies, such as high performance computing, the Internet of Things and Big Data. However, we are still lagging behind our European counterparts when it comes to University and SME engagement.

Approaching a large academic institution, however, can be daunting especially for smaller businesses. The University of Huddersfield, along with others, is determined to change this and is looking to pave the way for a new, more productive relationship with SMEs.  Sir Andrew Witty recognised the University and its pioneering 3M Buckley Innovation Centre (3M BIC) as an exemplar of SME support and innovation in his report ‘Encouraging a British Invention Revolution: Sir Andrew Witty’s Review of Universities and Growth’.

To bridge that gap, we launched a dedicated Business Engagement Centre at the 3M BIC, simplifying the route for SMEs to access academic, professional and technical support.

As a one-stop-shop it gives SMEs a foot in the door to the capabilities of its main partners the 3M BIC, the University of Huddersfield and NPL North of England, as well as associated businesses through the 3M BIC’s tenants and network members. In effect, all these elements address the bespoke needs of all businesses.

Dedicated business experts are on hand to provide comprehensive diagnostic health checks for businesses, listening to their needs, and helping build bespoke strategies to foster growth, from finding solutions to problems, to helping businesses run more efficiently.  As well as the combined expertise of the centre’s partners and associates, the centre will also act as a broker signposting to external organisations with other specialist capabilities.

Technical support is provided by the 3M BIC, from additive manufacturing and high performance computing to X-ray fluorescence and surface metrology, as well as NPL which specialises in metrology, CMM programming, and bespoke measurement training and consultancy.

Academic support comes in the form of the University’s seven schools, all boasting specialist expertise, student placement opportunities, as well as technologies, that in the majority of cases would be out of reach for small businesses, including the opportunity for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs).

The 3M BIC’s associated businesses and network members act as the professional experts, that can be accessed through 1-2-1 sessions, as well as events provided through the Centre’s Business Growth Forum. Expertise includes: HR, legal, PR & marketing, cyber-security, business consultancy, import & export, funding and mentoring.

Taking that next step to innovation and business growth can be overwhelming, but knowing where to find the support and connections to suit your needs is certainly a step in the right direction to business success and longevity.

For more information about the Business Engagement Centre, contact Stephen Gregory on or call 01484 505640.

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