It is a cliché to say an idea is just an idea without a plan. Oxfordshire is renowned for its innovations in almost every field with world-changing products and technologies originating here.
For larger companies with a track record of success and the finances to invest in new horizons or ideas, innovating is not exactly easy, but it is certainly easier.
OxLEP Business, the growth hub for Oxfordshire, is committed to helping smaller business to to develop and commercialise their ideas. A £5.2 million programme funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Innovation Support for Business (ISfB), is providing specialist support and help for the huge SME community to boost its ability to deliver innovations.
Since 2018 the Innovation Support for Business programme has been working with scores of companies to provide tailored packages of support. It also aims to develop links between businesses and researchers.
Helen Brind and her team at OxLEP Business have partnered with the University of Oxford, Cherwell District Council, Oxford City Council and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to deliver this programme. “It is a very customizable portfolio of support we’re providing” Helen told me. “Companies eligible to take part can be start-ups or existing businesses with an innovation that they want to introduce to their business or to the market. At the heart of the programme is our drive to encourage innovation”.
A helping hand
Few SME businesses exist with every skill or resource necessary to succeed. And the challenge for many is scoping out how to take their business to the next level. By helping to identify the gaps and requirements for each business, the programme can support the development and commercialisation of innovative business ideas as well as enhancing the research and innovation infrastructure in Oxfordshire.
“Some companies are masters of the technology but lack the marketing and sales skills to realise a commercial product” according to Peter Russell at OxLEP. “As an advisor working with these companies we can identify where there may be gaps, find the most appropriate source of help, introduce them to resources we can make available through our network of contacts and give them the opportunity to move their projects forward.”
Small businesses can make a big impact with the right help. Ben Williams at Oxford Sustainable Fuels approached OxLEP Business for help in developing a commercial-scale technology which can solve one of the most damaging products of the last 100 years; plastic.
They needed help building a pilot plant to prove the commercial viability of their product at an industrial scale. The innovative technology can process even the most difficult plastics and converts them into highly refined oils suitable for all sort of uses.
Introductions by the Innovation Support for Business team (ISfB) enhanced their network and exposed them to new ideas and perspectives. “Whilst we were still in development, it was vital that we could show the market what we could achieve” Ben William explains. “We also knew that we had to broaden our skill set and connect with others in the business of scaling up and creating a business from an idea.”
“We successfully applied for a grant to help us get the pilot plant constructed. It enabled us to employ two more people to accelerate the speed of our work towards construction of a pilot plant.”
The expanded team has also been able to produce the data and proof needed to support the patented processes and engage with potential users in the market.
“There is no doubt it has had an accelerating impact on our path to be a trading, commercially active business” Ben said.
Another business, WTVOX, has also benefitted from the programme. Their magazine focuses on sustainable and cruelty free fashion. But without a platform to bring the disparate community together and share experiences as well as the opportunity to purchase products, it was not achieving its objectives. The wider impact of the fashion industry has come under scrutiny recently, and their innovation has created the world’s first online marketplace exclusively dedicated to sustainable and cruelty-free fashion – Wardrobe of Tomorrow. It launched in September with 50 luxury brands and designers including Stella McCartney selling their designs on the platform.
The concept arose from founder Laurenti Arnault’s research at Oxford Brookes University. He says it is successfully showcasing the technologies, materials and techniques used by more ethical designers and makers.
“OxLEP Business put together a package of support for us. We had one-to-one advice on accounting and finance as well as the opportunity to attend events where we connected with others who are also focused on innovation.” Laurenti says the most valuable thing has been receiving guidance for developing a robust business plan and getting access to experts. “We had to understand what is needed and where we are on the route to monetizing our innovation. Getting access to the people who could share their knowledge was invaluable.”
Peter Russell at OxLEP Business says help is available for other businesses. “Your innovation doesn’t need to change the world. However, if it changes how you do things in your own business or helps others with new technologies, processes or ideas it’s an innovation and we can help.”
Innovation Support for Business
offers support including:
• ‘Go-create’ grants
• Coaching and mentoring
• Workshops, seminars and master classes
• Access to equipment, expertise and resources
To find out how we can support you to innovate, email: email@example.com or call OxLEP on 01865 897181