University link-up boosts business

University link-up boosts business

Breakthrough from Santander gives ambitious SMEs access to the cutting-edge research and expertise available in some of the UK’s leading universities – helping to drive growth through knowledge, talent and connections

Universities can offer big benefits to business, including access to great minds and a wealth of research. In turn, universities have a lot to gain from industry, including real-world insights to shape their research as well as financial help (according to Professor Liz Towns-Andrews of Huddersfield University, over the last five to 10 years the government has piled pressure on universities to clearly link academic bursaries with benefits to industry).

Santander is flying the flag for business by enabling growth through access to the latest knowledge, cutting-edge technology and expertise. This initiative is part of Breakthrough, designed to help businesses overcome the most common barriers to growth, including knowledge, talent, international markets, connections and finance.

Sharing expertise

Professor Towns-Andrews believes that businesses generally don’t turn to universities for practical support. Yet a sizeable proportion of them have access to cutting-edge technology and expertise, which they would be happy to share.

A good example of this is the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre. Wholly owned by University of Huddersfield as a commercial entity, the centre serves industry first and foremost. It has bought state-of-the-art technology, including the latest software for design and visualisation, 3D printing, surface and precision metrology, and high-performance computing.

Businesses are now being invited to use the technology for free to see if they benefit, and then continue on a pay-per-use basis. “We are essentially opening up technology to businesses that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford a state-of-the-art 3D printer or don’t know that they can reduce the time it takes to run simulations from a week to just a couple of hours, using high-performance computing,” says Towns-Andrews. She explains that 3M is working with Santander, which has so far helped fund 10 local businesses to access and utilise the centre’s technology – giving them the opportunity to progress their ideas into fully working concepts.

Peer learning

The University of Strathclyde has applied sciences firmly embedded in its DNA and a heritage in providing entrepreneur education. The Growth Advantage Programme, a 10-month business acceleration course run by Strathclyde Business School, builds on this legacy. Supported by Santander, the programme is delivered through the school’s Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, which helps Scottish start-ups and small firms expand. Fees are heavily subsidised by Santander.

The centre delivers on its stated aim of “helping business owners achieve their full growth potential” by researching businesses, identifying patterns, highlighting common pitfalls, and suggesting opportunities for growth. The model is structured by academics but driven by peer learning.

After each immersive experience, often alongside the biggest names in British business, course participants are encouraged to apply any lessons learnt to their company. Upon returning as a cohort, they are then supported in reviewing these pledges and sharing their experiences.

John Anderson, director of the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, observes that the results have been so successful that the university is now planning further developments, including a bespoke course for family-run businesses and a variation for technology start-ups.

As one person on the Growth Advantage Programme puts it: “The course has given me the impetus, confidence and knowhow that I needed to grow the company. Being a sole owner can be a lonely and hard calling, especially when there are ongoing economic challenges. This course could not have come at a better time.”

Power of big data 

Big data is disrupting business models like never before. Start-ups and digital companies are using advanced analytics and new commercial models to challenge incumbents. To help fast-growth, ambitious businesses the University of Essex, one of 78 Santander partner universities, is helping businesses unlock the value of big data through innovative analysis.

According to the university, SMEs are well positioned to tailor their offering based on insights derived via big data and analytics. To help them, the university’s Institute for Analytics and Data Science is partnering with businesses in a range of projects, including Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs, funded through Innovate UK), to address a single strategic issue. Lasting anywhere between six months and three years, KTPs give businesses access to university expertise, R&D and the opportunity to boost profits.

Inspiring others

Santander’s Breakthrough initiatives are invaluable because they recognise the importance of building relationships to drive business development through shared experiences, information and knowledge. This priority is shared by Towns-Andrews, who believes in the power of cross-sector innovation, and Anderson, who urges people to network with similarly ambitious individuals.

Exciting business breakthroughs happen when people rub shoulders, and inform and inspire each other.

To find out more about Santander Breakthrough, visit

Funding innovation

Paxman Coolers makes scalp coolers for patients undergoing chemotherapy to stop hair loss. The company accessed 3M Buckley Innovation Centre’s equipment and knowhow. The centre collaborated on the cap’s design, 3D-printed a mould of a cap and then helped the Huddersfield-based firm apply for grants totalling £500,000.

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