Having been selected as an anchor institution, the University’s LEAP (Leadership & Entrepreneurship Advancing Productivity) programme will work with the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) to pilot new ways to improve productivity by boosting the leadership of small businesses.
Through the leadership and entrepreneurship programme, North East-based micro businesses of up to 50 employees can access the North East’s first FabLab. Part of an international network of similar maker spaces, a FabLab is where people can collaborate and innovate, using the specialist equipment and support available to commercialise new products and services.
The selection panel recognised the demand from small firms for the use of this type of resource, with 76% of businesses saying they’d like to use facilities, equipment and expertise available, yet actual engagement is low.
Hazel Rounthwaite, Commercial Manager at the University of Sunderland commented: “We’re really pleased to have been chosen as one of only eight successful projects within UKCES’s national UK Futures programme.This is a unique project from the University of Sunderland; we’re looking to work with SMEs from both the manufacturing and creative/cultural sector.
“Having the region’s first FabLab as the setting is ideal, it creates the perfect environment for innovation, yet at the same time is really accessible for businesses of all sizes so is inclusive in its approach. The cost for organisations to take part is £500 each and we will be choosing 24 manufacturing organisations and 24 creative / cultural companies to work with from those that apply. The successful organisations should expect to increase their turnover by at least 10% within two years, so it’s definitely worth businesses getting in touch.
“The programme will start later this month and the organisations selected will join innovation workshops and development sessions specially designed to get them thinking of innovative ways to improve their leadership and increase productivity.”
The 48 companies selected to work with the University will collaborate to design the programme themselves, in sessions facilitated within the FabLab – the output will then be rolled out to support other SMEs.
Julie Kenny CBE DL, founder of Pyronix Ltd, a leading small business in the security sector, and Commissioner at UKCES commented: “Small businesses form the backbone of the UK economy. Yet constraints on their time and resources mean they are the least likely to develop the leadership and management skills that will help them grow.
“Owner managers and senior leaders of small companies need to spend their time and money wisely, and see clear benefits from the start. Current training programmes are often too broad or vague to be usefully applied in the real world. Simply gaining access to good programmes can also be difficult – for instance if you operate in a more rural area.
“We need new ways to reach these businesses, and we need solutions that are relevant to each small firm. The anchor institutions we will be working with have demonstrated a strong understanding of the specific issues that small businesses face in their local community. They have also shown that they have the ability to reach out to businesses who often find themselves excluded from national programmes.
“The eight UK Futures schemes selected by UKCES are trialling innovative ways to improve the productivity of small businesses in their local community by boosting their leadership and entrepreneurship skills. In particular the projects will identify new ways to help small businesses who haven’t previously had any leadership or entrepreneurial training. Each anchor institution has a strong local presence and commitment to their community.”