As businesses start the process of recovery and opening after the COVID 19 disruptions, Mark Wheddon, Head of Delivery for Invest to Grow at the University of Derby, reflects on what support the programme has been able to offer them during this period.
Adapting to new ways of working
The University’s Invest to Grow programme has now been operating for over five years and in that time has made 230 awards, totalling £26.1m to businesses across the East Midlands region. This has seen more than 1,900 full time jobs created and safeguarded so far, with £98m of private sector funding injected into the East Midlands economy.
Over the last few months, many of the businesses we have supported have been affected by lockdown and disruptions caused by the COVID 19 crisis. They are facing serious challenges with the cancellation of a large volume of current orders by customers, significant drops in turnover, the furloughing of staff, considerations about how to safely reopen, and how to adapt or diversify their product or service offer, alongside business cash flow constraints.
Invest to Grow has been supporting businesses during this period by accommodating immediate loan repayment holidays and reprofiling of their loans. We’ve also been signposting them to the government support available and where possible linking them up with additional support available from the University. We continue to listen to businesses about how they are coping with COVID 19 disruptions and how the University can support their requirements to safely rebuild, restart and reopen.
That said, we have been hearing about some fantastic examples of how the businesses we’ve supported are adapting and diversifying their products and offers and, in some instances, supporting the wider COVID 19 efforts to support the NHS. For example, Millitec Food Systems Ltd, who have significant experience in high-tech manufacturing and robotics, have developed an ICU ventilator and another version suitable for home use. They will supply the machines to the NHS on a not-for-profit basis and have also begun manufacturing PPE (particularly protective face visors) for medical and non-medical settings.
Discovering what the University can offer businesses
Invest to Grow is still open to new applications and encouragingly we are still receiving new proposals for funding from businesses where they are ready to invest and start the process of reopening and rebuilding following the COVID 19 disruptions.
Many of the SMEs supported may not have immediately thought of coming to the University for business support, but through engagement with Invest to Grow we are then able to maximise these opportunities and refer these businesses on to other colleagues and business support functions. In many cases, the scheme operates as an enabler and introducer to businesses for the commercial offers from the University that businesses may be unaware of.
For example, we worked with Swiftool Precision Engineering Ltd based in Huthwaite who
said they would never have dreamed of going to a university to ask for help before our project together, but it opened their eyes as to what the University of Derby can offer business in terms of support.
New relationships established with businesses via Invest to Grow has increased awareness of the expertise and associated wider support offer available from the University of Derby. Businesses have reported a deeper understanding of the practical, financial and community support available from the University and have indicated they are keen to continue building the relationship.
How it works
For example, RDS Global Ltd, based in Derby, received ITG funding towards the upgrade of their premises and for a second project for the development of a cyber audit portal. The project enabled clients to self-assess compliance with the government’s Cyber Essentials Certification and also the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The company continued to work with the University, undertaking a Knowledge Transfer Partnership project and developing a work placement programme, providing internship opportunities for students. In addition, RDS Global also received support from the University’s Enscite project, including guidance on how to market its new product.
Strawdog Studios Ltd, a creative and digital industries game development studio based in Derby, received ITG funding and recruited three University of Derby graduates. They then went on to access support through the ERDF funded Knowledge Exchange for Innovation (KEI) scheme and have recruited an additional two graduates as the business has grown. There is now ongoing dialogue with the business about potential involvement in the University’s DRIVEN project.
So, as the recovery from COVID 19 starts, with businesses facing a very challenging period ahead, the programme continues to provide support with growth and investment plans across the key growth sectors in the region and we are still open for new applications.