Support for small to medium size business’ when & where they need it most

Small to medium sized companies across the South West Competiveness area can now get support to access the expertise within universities, colleges and public research establishments to innovate and grow.

Under an exciting new European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) scheme launched this month, businesses can use subsidized vouchers to purchase academic support and research support from a partner of their choice. Offering up to 40% support for projects with a total value ranging from £3,000 to £10,000, the scheme aims to build links between the regional knowledge base and SMEs through creating a demand led approach to supporting innovation.

‘We are interested in any innovative approach to the specific challenges SMEs identify’ explains Innovation Voucher Project Manager Robin Bower. ‘We can support most types of innovation – for example ideas for new or improved products, processes and services, or using design to improve a business.  The key issue businesses need to be clear on is that this should represent a real innovative challenge, not just a small improvement or change to what they currently do.

The scheme aims to open up the knowledge, facilities and expertise that resides in academia and research organisations, providing financial support and guidance to SMEs to match their needs with the best knowledge provider.’

Ian Munro, Regional Director, Association of Colleges SW, adds “This project will provide a much needed incentive for SMES, Colleges and Universities to work together to develop new and innovative solutions to meet the business need, we are confident that  this project will lead to long term sustainable partnerships. AoC SW is delighted to have been able to support Universities South West and its partners to secure this significant  investment for the region ”

Led by Universities South West (the membership association of the region’s 13 universities) and delivered through a collaborative partnership of member universities and Further Education Colleges, the scheme is a £3.75m boost to create a culture of innovation and growth in SMEs. Managed through a central team in Universities South West, businesses can approach any knowledge base partner of their choice, whilst those who need guidance can find advice from project staff based in the Arts University College Bournemouth, Plymouth University, University of Bristol, University of Exeter, University of Gloucestershire, Somerset College of Art and Technology, South Devon College and Wiltshire College.

‘At the heart of this project is the goal of fostering longer-term partnerships between SW SMEs and the knowledge base,’ said Robin. ‘With over 99% of businesses in the SW employing fewer than 250 people** and a dynamic regional educational and research sector, there is real opportunity to be a great catalyst for ambitious businesses to develop and grow through innovation.’

The scheme is open for applications at any time between 1 October 2012 to early in 2015 with Innovation Vouchers available to businesses that:

– have fewer than 250 full-time employees located anywhere in the South West England Competitiveness Area

– have an annual turnover below £40million

– are in an ERDF-eligible sector

The South West Competitiveness Area as defined by the ERDF programme and covers the unitary authority areas of Devon, Plymouth, Torbay, Somerset, Bournemouth, Dorset, Poole, Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Swindon. It does not include Cornwall.

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