University expertise helps region's businesses to thrive

Universities are not necessarily the first place you’d think of approaching for help with growing your business. But you could be missing out on incredible opportunities to take your organisation’s success to the next level.

Experts at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in Preston have provided tailored support to hundreds of local small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in recent years. Businesses have benefited from access to state-of-the-art facilities (such as a £35m Engineering Innovation Centre), collaborating with leading research staff, and engaging with the brightest student and graduate talent.

We are proud to be a catalyst for economic growth, providing a vast range of business support under the leadership of our business school, the Lancashire School of Business and Enterprise. Our Centre for SME and Enterprise Development (CSME) has been a huge success story, providing local business leaders with opportunities to connect, collaborate and share best practice. Its thriving 1,400-strong membership is growing all the time, with members benefitting from tailored business advice, development events and networking opportunities all year round.

The CSME epitomises our commitment to being an outstanding, sector-leading entrepreneurial institution which seeks to foster a more productive and innovative SME sector in Lancashire. The Chartered Association of Business Schools recently commended our work as “unique” and “groundbreaking.” We’ve inspired leaders across the North West to experiment with pioneering new ideas, adopt new technologies and enhance their efficiency and competitiveness. After tapping into our expertise, leaders have taken bold steps to future-proof their organisations and ready themselves for the incredible opportunities that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring.

In 2020-21 The University of Central Lancashire supported some 529 SMEs through fully funded initiatives, adding £15m Gross Value Added (GVA) and helping create 116 jobs. This was made possible thanks to funding totalling £31.2m to support Lancashire-based SMEs. We currently have some 14 projects ongoing, focusing on everything from upskilling leaders to new product design, becoming investment ready, and reducing carbon and energy usage. In addition, our Propeller Hub which is a co-working space at the centre, offers mentoring and incubation space for start-up businesses, with a hot desk on campus costing just £40 per month.

Sue Smith, Professor of Innovation and Enterprise, says: “SMEs are the backbone of our country’s economy and universities like ourselves have much to offer across all sectors. Adding demonstrable value to the region’s SMEs and supporting student enterprise are key priorities that we are committed to as a civic university and anchor institution.”

Championing student enterprise is another of our strengths. Last year we were named as the top university in the north of England for helping students and graduates set up and run their own successful companies. Through our Propeller service we’ve given formal enterprise support to more than 850 new businesses, including sole traders, over the last six years (University Start-up League Table, Tide).

Professor Chris Pyke, Executive Dean of the Lancashire School of Business and Enterprise, says: “Enterprise runs throughout everything we do. Helping the entrepreneurs of tomorrow is part of our legacy. To be top in the north really shows our commitment to our students and their futures.”

Meanwhile, our business and management research has been ranked amongst the UK’s top 20 per cent for world-leading impact in the recently published Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) results. This includes research undertaken at the centre alongside seven other northern universities to develop a set of hybrid working principles for SMEs.

They were created alongside the NP11 growth hubs, a voice for regional businesses which brings together the 11 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) across the north of England. Other projects have seen our expert researchers making submissions to parliamentary select committees and even advising the United Nations.

To find out more about how your business could benefit from the Centre for SME and Enterprise Development or to join free, visit www.uclan.ac.uk/sme. You can find out more about the University of Central Lancashire’s support for businesses by emailing business@uclan.ac.uk or telephone 01772 895500.

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