Budget Boost For Innovation, Green Tech and Skills

24 04 2009

More details are emerging about the new £750m Strategic Investment Fund announced in this year’s Budget to support advanced industrial projects of strategic importance to the country and the economy. The Fund promises to focus investment on innovative and fast growing companies in sectors including biotech, clean energy and digital media.

A £250m allocation from this Fund will be earmarked for low-carbon investment, while the Technology Strategy Board will receive £50m and UK Trade & Investment, which supports UK businesses trading internationally, will get £10m. There will also be enhanced capital allowances for energy-saving and water-efficient (environmentally beneficial) technologies.

Strategic investment

Innovation and ‘green’ sectors of the economy were heralded as big winners in the 2009 Budget, with an additional £500m of spending announced as part of an overall £1.4bn package of targeted support to boost Britain’s low-carbon sectors.

NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) welcomed the announcement on Budget Day. Its Chief Executive, Jonathan Kestenbaum, said: “Today the Government took a vital step on the road to recovery and the future looks a lot brighter for the UK’s entrepreneurs. The Fund will give a new vibrancy to the UK’s technology market and will bring about deep and lasting change to our economy.”

Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths-related (STEM) subjects in schools will benefit from a £2m investment to provide the knowledge and skills needed by some of the sectors where development will be concentrated thanks to new investments in innovation and strategically important technologies.

The NCGE already provides direct support for STEM entrepreneurs – for instance, through new FlyingStart Programmes for Engineers, with the Royal Academy of Engineering; Software Entrepreneurship and Online Business, last December with Microsoft and Agitavi Research; and now ‘Go WEST’ – Women in Engineering, Science and Technology. Candidates have until 15th May to apply for this event at the University of Surrey.

Support for business

The Budget saw a series of other measures introduced or extended to ease pressure on small businesses. Support for business in the current year looks fairly substantial. Chief among the measures is increasing to 40% tax relief to businesses on capital spending – for one year only. This scheme alone is forecast to cost the Treasury £1.64bn.

For loss-making companies, there will be the chance to reclaim taxes on profits made in the last three years until November 2010. A top-up trade credit insurance scheme will be introduced, which will match private sector trade credit insurance provision if insurers reduce their cover for businesses operating in the UK.

The total cost of deferring payments to HMRC through an extended Business Payment Support Service, the car scrappage scheme, improvements to venture capital investment schemes, and various other smaller initiatives is over £3.3bn.

Reacting to the budget on BBC Two’s Newsnight programme, Lord Karan Bilimoria, the Government’s National Champion for Graduate Entrepreneurship, said: “What we’ve got to do is encourage entrepreneurship, encourage enterprise. People forget the basics: that it is actually wealth creation and business that creates employment that pays the taxes that pay for public services.”

Advertisements




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.





Challenging Graduate Career Opportunities

28 01 2009

Graduates are facing a very tough jobs market. The ‘Class of 2009’ has already had to contend with gloomy predictions of a serious shortfall in the number of graduate jobs available when they finish their degrees this year. But it’s not all gloom and doom if you’re creative and entrepreneurial.

Some of the more entrepreneurial graduates in sectors where competition for jobs is fiercest are already taking defensive action to create their own start-ups. The NCGE’s Flying Start Programme for the Creative Industries, held in Bournemouth earlier this month, received over 100 applications for 33 places from as far north as Yorkshire.

Graduates chasing vacancies at the UK’s largest recruiters will find fewer opportunities on average. High Fliers Research, whose 14th January report – The Graduate Market in 2009 – surveyed 100 firms, found that recruitment targets have been cut by 17% for this year since the latest graduate recruitment round began in September 2008.

Last year graduate recruitment fell by 6.7% rather than rising by the 11.8% predicted by the recruiters themselves. Banking and finance were particularly badly hit. Skilled staff taken on by leading firms will drop by 7,000 to around 33,000 this year.

Mike Hill, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HESCU) and Graduate Prospects, said recently: “Graduates should not panic. There are lots of jobs out there, but they will be harder to get because more people will be going for them.

“There are more jobs for graduates now than there were 10 years ago,” he added. It is also important, Mike recommends, for HR managers to take a long-term view when faced with current financial pressures. “When we emerge from this recession we will need all the talent we can muster.”

Some areas are bucking the trend, according to the High Fliers research report. There are now 51% more entry-level positions for graduates in the public sector and 17% more roles in the Armed Forces. Accountancy remains a strong prospect, preparing to offer 20.9% of all graduate jobs in 2009.

A BBC Briefing for concerned graduates listed seven top tips from HESCU and Graduate Prospects include:

  • Take advice
  • Broaden your horizons to related professions
  • Consider paid or unpaid work experience
  • Do not be too proud to use contacts to get a first break
  • Do not be too proud to take a job you think may be beneath you
  • Be imaginative

and

  • Consider setting up your own business.

Seasoned entrepreneur Sir David Tang has criticised global pessimism in the face of recession. In a recent opinion piece he recommended we shed negativity and think about finding solutions. He called on governments to force banks to lend to small businesses.

The Government is taking action on a number of fronts. In addition to its recent support package for small businesses, a new campaign – Science: So What? (So Everything) – launched today at 10 Downing Street underlines the continuing need for science, technology, engineering and maths subject areas among many graduate employers. Technology and innovation are seen as key drivers for economic recovery.

Meanwhile, Professor Dame Wendy Hall is spearheading another campaign by the Royal Academy of Engineering to attract more engineers from diverse backgrounds. She said: “The financial turmoil and the recession actually give us a huge opportunity to entice people who have studied engineering and science away from the City and back into innovating for the future, which is where they are badly needed.”

For those graduates among the 400,000 due to graduate this year who remain unemployed for more than six months, it has been reported that DIUS Minister John Denham is proposing paid three-month internships with leading firms and is inviting more of all sizes, and from the public and voluntary sectors, to take part. But details are still being worked out.

In the Government’s New Opportunities White Paper, it was also announced last week that a more streamlined package of support for those unemployed for six months or more pursuing self-employment is to be introduced.





Graduate entrepreneurship and business start ups/success

10 04 2008

Some 40 per cent of graduates from the top business schools are running successful entrepreneurial ventures 10 years after graduation, writes Arnoud De Meyer (director of the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge) in a recent Financial Times article discussing one hundred years of MBA courses.  A follow-up interview with Marcos Galperín (who launched MercadoLibre – “Free Market” – the eBay of Latin America) demonstrates the impact that graduate entrepreneurs can have on a national and global basis.  Speaking about his successful venture, Galperín stated that “I could not have done this without the MBA”.

The National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship (NCGE) was formed in 2004 with the aim of raising the profile of entrepreneurship and the option of starting a business as a career choice amongst students and graduates.  Four years on, and with an enhanced role arising from the 2008 Enterprise Strategy, the NCGE continues to monitor the evidence base supporting the importance of graduates setting up businesses.  For example, earlier this year the NCGE commissioned research into the graduate status of the founders of the UK’s fastest growing private companies, which showed that 70% of the UK’s fastest-growing companies were founded by graduates. 





Growing innovative start-ups

7 04 2008

The news that the number of start-up businesses in the UK has reached the highest level since records began 20 years ago is striking given the increasingly difficult trading conditions during the second half of last year. Research from Barclays indicates that a record 471,500 new businesses opened their doors in 2007, the highest annual volume since Barclays started tracking the market in 1988. This is an increase of 3% on 2006 (457,200). Within Scotland an 11% increase is reported in the number of new businesses started in 2007 – corporate services firm Oswalds note that 21,256 new companies were formed last year.

Such a trend requires considered and expert analysis and NESTA’s Policy & Research Unit (NPRU) is launching a new and timely research strand on growing innovative firms. The aim of this research is to investigate the path that growing firms follow; their impact on the economy; the barriers that they face; and the role of policy in helping to overcome them. NESTA is currently inviting tenders from researchers interested in pursuing work in this area (Invitation to Tender: Growing innovative firms), with a closing date for applications of 24 April 2008.

Meanwhile a recent Kauffman Foundation publication, Study of early years of start-ups, provides context from the US experience. This is the largest longitudinal study of new businesses ever conducted, following nearly 5,000 businesses founded in 2004 and tracking them over their early years of operation. The aim is to understand the characteristics of new business formation and sustainability with the intention of informing public policy to encourage entrepreneurial businesses.