Universities Mobilise To Support Business and Entrepreneurs

16 04 2009

HEFCE and DIUS have said what money will be allocated to which HEIs from the Economic Challenge Investment Fund.

Standing Together provides contacts and practical examples.

Standing Together provides contacts and practical examples.

A total of 77 universities and colleges will offer between them £59,240,920 of match funding to help businesses and communities. The total amount of funding being made available by HEFCE to successful bidders is £27,572,834, with the remainder provided in the form of matching contributions from institutions and local partners.

The Economic Challenge Investment Fund opened for bids in January for its £27 million in match funding. It is designed to help institutions delivering short-term support between April 2009 and September 2010. The funding has enabled many institutions already actively engaged in entrepreneurship education, knowledge transfer and business support to boost their activities.

It’s just one part of an increasingly coordinated response by higher education institutions to the economic crisis, and enterprise and entrepreneurship are key features of many initiatives awarded funding and support.

Every university is now being challenged to be a ‘business facing university’ as Government and business look to the higher education to demonstrate how they can support the economy and their local communities.

“Demand for higher education usually grows during an economic downturn” says a useful new guide Standing Together – Universities helping business through the downturn. The guide gives names and contact details at 157 institutions and links to examples of schemes already supporting business and enterprise across the country.

Standing Together has been published by Universities UK, GuildHE and HEFCE, with support from DIUS, to provide examples of how HEIs are contributing to the effort to get British business back on track.

The recipient of the most Economic Challenge Fund money is the University of Cumbria, which will receive £1 million for its activities. Cumbria is one Northwest university with vibrant enterprise activity.

The University has in post an NCGE-NWDA Northwest Enterprise Champion, Jo Chaffer, who led a successful intensive three-day entrepreneurship course that launched a FlyingStart General Business Programme at the end of March for over 30 graduate entrepreneurs.

Other universities awarded nearly £1 million include Aston University in Birmingham, identified yesterday by the Work Foundation as the UK city hardest hit by unemployment. Its Pro Vice Chancellor for Business Partnerships and Knowledge Transfer, Dr Phil Extance, said: “We’re delighted to win this latest bid, which will enable us to increase the scope of two of our successful activities and to allow universities to help businesses tackle the difficult issues they face.

“Creating a further 104 Innovation Vouchers is excellent news as the previous round of vouchers, awarded under the INDEX project, was nearly three times oversubscribed. It indicates that there is a real demand for support for innovation even in the current difficult economic climate”

Next in the Economic Challenge list is the University of Derby, collaborating with four further education colleges – West Nottinghamshire College, Derby College, North Notts College and Chesterfield College. One key strand of Derby’s proposal is the University’s own Enterprise Scheme, which will be extended to currently excluded groups such as redundant professionals and graduates, or those at risk of unemployment.

There will be 20 incubator access grants and 12 enterprise bursaries offered to encourage new businesses to start up.

Derby’s Commercial Director Andrew Hartley, who helped shape the bid, said: “This support programme incorporates the strengths of individual partners and fills gaps in provision that have been identified with support from external agencies such as Job Centre Plus and Business Link. “The objective of this collaboration is to ensure that support is available at the point of need. Independent research commissioned by the University of Derby found that a lot of people individuals would like to access services at their local institution.

“This programme will therefore aim to offer co-ordinated services through both the University of Derby and a linked network of the emda-funded Higher Education Centres within further education colleges and local authority managed business/innovation centres across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.”

Derby is just one example of a university which actively supports graduate entrepreneurship. In March it hosted an NCGE FlyingStart Rally and Creative Careers Fair where GQ Editor Dylan Jones revealed how he graduated from Saint Martins School of Art during the recession of the early 1980s. He revealed it was a time of opportunity for entrepreneurs.

Speaking to over 120 potential small business owners, he said: “The economic downturn in the 1980s was one of the most creative periods,” he said. “People were starting record labels, magazines and nightclubs. There was a huge vacuum for cultural enterprises to fill. Therefore a creative groundswell took place.”

DIUS, HEFCE, Universities UK and the CBI, RDAs, the Business Link network, and many other regional and national bodies are investing great effort in working together with universities to help businesses and individuals. It’s time to showcase the great work taking place at HEIs and support opportunities for entrepreneurship.


Entrepreneurship, HE and the Recession

20 02 2009

entrepreneur_recessionThe debate rumbles on. Does the present economic downturn hold opportunity for entrepreneurs, or is the situation too bleak to yield success? Can entrepreneurs lead economies out of recession on a wave of innovation and start-ups?

Governments and business have high expectations. The higher education sector must also contribute to bolstering entrepreneurship and economic recovery.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has already responded, launching its Economic Challenge Investment Fund (ECIF) to enable higher education to respond rapidly to the needs of employers and individuals during the economic downturn.

Ten larger collaborative proposals will be supported by up to £1 million each in HEFCE contributions. A further 40 smaller proposals, normally up to £500,000 each from HEFCE, will be approved after the 27th February deadline as part of this £50 million scheme.

Announcing the ECIF on 27th January, Professor David Eastwood said: “The new initiative is designed to meet urgent and short-term economic challenges facing individuals (whether in work or unemployed), new graduates and businesses. We are looking particularly to help small and medium enterprises.

“Higher education has never been closer to business. The strong links developed over the past few years put universities and colleges in an excellent position to make a flexible response to current economic challenges at a time when it is vital that we continue to invest in enterprise and skills.”

A vice-chancellor’s perspective

Just before Christmas, several vice-chancellors were called to a meeting with Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills John Denham MP to discuss how higher education can contribute to bringing the UK out of recession.

One who contributed to that meeting was Professor Tim Wilson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire, a university that places its relationships with industry at the heart of what it does. Professor Wilson advocated ‘Innovation Vouchers’, such as those already piloted in the West Midlands, where businesses can “spend” a sum – say £1,000 – at a university to get support and advice on specific issues.

“What a fantastic way not only to get universities to support small businesses, but also to get small business expertise into universities,” Professor Wilson said in an interview with Lucy Hodges in The Independent on 29th January.

He also supports ‘Training Vouchers’ for people who are made redundant to improve their skills through short university courses; and he promotes the idea of universities welcoming more ‘spin-in’ companies which need to be helped in the early stages of start-up and development. “This is one of the biggest opportunities the university sector has ever had to make a real impact on economic regeneration,” he said.

Towards a ‘new entrepreneurship’

In principle, ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ should determine what new opportunities are available and seek out the resources needed to exploit these. Easier said than done. A leading thinker on entrepreneurship, Professor David Rae, Director of the Centre for Management & Business Research in the Lincoln Business School, suggests that universities are well placed to contribute to the development of a ‘new entrepreneurship’, “led by education, in which social responsibility, environmental sustainability and the practice of ethical and moral frameworks become integral”.

In his inaugural lecture at the University of Lincoln on 28th January 2009, Professor Rae examined whether ‘entrepreneurship’ is ‘too risky to let loose in a stormy climate’. He revealed that he graduated at the cusp of a recession in 1981 and founded his first business a decade later during the recession in 1991, but acknowledged that the challenge seems greater now.

“The ability of graduates to find jobs and start their careers, and of entrepreneurs to run their businesses successfully during a recession, is of great concern,” he said. “I hope this lecture will start a debate which is urgently needed on what better ways we can create which enable us to do these important things and what the contribution of the University can be to achieve this in the next few challenging years.”

Professor Rae, who is ISBE‘s Vice-President for Education, offered three “suggestions to advance the development of entrepreneurship in the new era. One is the value of mutual and collective enterprise[…]. The second is the need to use latent resources to regenerate economic activity. The third is the role of learning in creating the new entrepreneurship.” In examining the role of learning, Professor Rae stated: “I believe that Higher Education has a responsibility to work with business people and wider communities to create and apply knowledge which leads to new solutions, and at this time that is more critical than ever.”

He added that: “Students need to be enterprising to create life and career opportunities by being resourceful and imaginative in applying their skills and talents to a range of opportunities.”

Rae concluded that: “The University can provide an intellectual and creative arena where different models of enterprise, economic activity and value creation can emerge and be taken forward into the community by our students. We cannot do this alone and we welcome people from business, communities and public sector agencies to work with us.”

With the ECIF fund and a prioritised and more proactive approach to business, many universities are seeking to respond to the challenges of the new global economic environment, an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace, and changes to research funding. The work of organisations such as the NCGE will prove a valuable catalyst for improving collaborative links between HEIs, business and government.

Eyes On The Prize

2 06 2008

Business competition entrants and winners can all benefit from opportunities to raise their company’s profile, generate press and publicity and communicate marketing messages. The advantages are two-way.

This Friday, 6 June, individuals actively supporting and promoting women entrepreneurs from all over the UK will attend the Prowess Awards 2008 in Birmingham to find out whether they’ve won a coveted award in one of eleven categories. The Government’s Minister for Women and Equality, Harriet Harman, recently said: “We need to encourage more women to take the plunge. Men are almost twice as likely as women to start a new business. That’s why we are determined to close this gap by providing solid support and encouragement.”

The Prowess Awards recognises the immense contribution successful women entrepreneurs are making to the UK economy.

Increasingly, competitions address the needs of specific economic sectors. The second annual Young Rural Entrepreneur of the Year Award has been launched, highlighting the enterprise needs of rural economies and the communities that depend on their success. By introducing a competitive element, businesses within a certain sector, or development agencies keen to revitalise sections of the economy, can begin to encourage start-ups and entrepreneurial businesses to flourish.

NCGE’s co-sponsorship with HSBC of the recent Unipreneurs competition, our backing for SEEDA’s MAD Ideas contest, focusing on social entrepreneurship, and the eagerly awaited Times Higher Education Award for ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ all provide incentives for graduate entrepreneurs to demonstrate their success and get noticed.

This year’s Unipreneurs winners – Luke Walsh, from the University of York, and Luke Jefferson, from UEA – met and launched their business, Scratchface, while they were both NCGE-Kauffman Flying Start Global Fellows. Competition judge Peter Jones, from TV’s Dragons’ Den, proclaimed the pair multimillionaires in the making.

Luke Walsh praised the impact of Flying Start and the Global Fellowship, offered in partnership with distinguished US entrepreneurship body the Kauffman Foundation. “The Fellowship has raised my expectations, goals and aspirations and given me the tools to go out and achieve those goals. It has given me the confidence to go out there and do it, and I have learned that having a good idea is only the start; it’s the execution of that idea which is critical.”

Entrepreneurial competitions open up access to a new network of fellow businesspeople and potential advisors, coaches and mentors. This injection of expertise and support could be a determinant of future success. Taking advantage of associated publicity can create a media connection that should invite follow-ups, so long as the stories retain news value. And winners may gain a much-needed cash bonus, such as the £20,000 cash prize Scratchface won in the Unipreneurs competition, at a major milestone on their business’s road to growth.

Launch of China/UK Entrepreneurship Educators Network

12 05 2008

The China-UK Entrepreneurship Educators Network will be launched this week in Hangzhou, China to coincide with the WUN Hangzhou China Enterprise Conference and is being supported by the British Council. The Network is a collaborative venture with NCGE’s Chinese partners: Shanghai Technology Entrepreneurship Foundation for Graduates (STEFG) and the Shanghai Institute for Foreign Trade (SIFT). The aim of the new Network is to impact on student and graduate entrepreneurship by engaging in effective collaboration between Chinese and UK institutions through exemplar education.

The Network members – entrepreneurship educators from Chinese and UK institutions – will exchange good practice, exchange staff and students, and develop joint programmes and materials for entrepreneurship educators. The Network will also link with the winners of the UK PMI2 awards in entrepreneurship and employability that are built around relationships between Chinese and UK Universities.

Key Network activities will include:

  • a collaborative IEEP China Programme to encourage co-operation and exchange between Chinese and UK education institutions.
  • a special programme and series of textbooks written for China and the UK will be launched and made available to all universities in China. The programme will focus on entrepreneurship educators in Chinese institutions and aims to provide the tools, models and materials that will enable them to grow entrepreneurship education across the tertiary sector in China.
  • STEFG and NCGE will create a China-UK Graduate Entrepreneurship Fellows Programme starting in January 2009. Initially five UK and five Chinese entrepreneurship graduates will trade places for a two month period.

New intellectual property resources

14 04 2008

Ahead of World Intellectual Property Day on 26 April 2008 comes news of two initiatives which will benefit student and graduate entrepreneurs who are developing new ideas:

  • The British Library Business & IP Centre has developed an interactive online information resource to help individuals and small companies teach themselves the essentials of intellectual property.   Intellectual Property – How to Protect and Develop Your Idea is designed “to give users the confidence to learn the IP fundamentals that no-one setting up a business or launching an innovation can afford to ignore”. The website incorporates much of the invaluable information provided by the British Library and brings it to the fingertips of budding entrepreneurs and innovators based anywhere in the UK or the world.
  • The UK Intellectual Property Office has launched a new online Patents Journal service for published patents data, allowing users to search and download published patent information, on-line, free of charge.  The database offers a range of search options as well as providing automatic links to the Patents Register and published documents.

 [Reminder:  JISC Podcast on IPR issues faced by Web 2.0 users in education]

Rural entrepreneurship

4 03 2008

In the debate about the withdrawal of funding for ELQs (equivalent or lower qualifications), it is interesting to note that landscape training may be exempt from the £100m cuts the Government is making to higher education this year. This is because land-based studies are considered strategically important or vulnerable subjects.  The strategic importance was emphasised at today’s Young Entrepreneurs Conference at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, when young rural entrepreneurs were warned of the need to avoid diversification pitfalls – and to balance new enterprises with the core farming business.

Other forthcoming conferences which will focus on rural enterprise are:

  • The WiRE (Women in Rural Enterprise) Conference is now in its eighth year and brings together women from all stages and types of business.  The theme of the 2008 WiRE Conference is WiFi and Wellies. Part Welly, Part WiFi, embracing everything that is rural; from traditional crafts, local foods and farm diversifications to everything that is high tech, women in rural enterprises embody the huge diversity of rural businesses. They remain true to their rural roots but gallop ahead in the new technologies field to build bigger and better businesses.
  • The Centre for Research into Regional Development (CRRED) will be hosting two conferences to run concurrently on 22nd and 23rd May 2008: the 6th Rural Entrepreneurship Conference and Rural Regional Development: Sustainability, Culture and Business.

Creative industries and their contribution to the economy

29 01 2008

The contribution of the creative industries to the UK economy is explored in a new research report from NESTA, Beyond the Creative Industries: mapping the creative economy in the United Kingdom. When policymakers and industry professionals can accurately measure this contribution to economic activity, they are better placed to communicate key concepts, share reliable data and make the case for greater investment. This report complements earlier studies (Creative Industry performance and London’s Creative Sector) and seeks to improve on the available data about the true extent of creative activity within the economy.

The wider European context will be explored in a study on unleashing talent and creativity in Europe, which was announced this month by the European Commission, following an informal meeting of representatives from the Member States’ Culture Ministries to discuss the potential of culture to boost jobs and growth.  The European Commissioner for Education, Training, Youth and Culture, Mr Ján Figel’, announced the creation of a group of experts from Member States and a group with civil society organisations from the creative and cultural industries. These task groups will to focus on unleashing the full potential of the cultural and creative industries, especially in small and medium sized enterprises, to help achieve the aims of the EU’s Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs.