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Small in size, big in ambition & ideas How SMEs can grab a slice of the innovation cake

No one says it’s easy turning your innovation, idea or creative solution into a business reality. Breakthroughs and changes can be time consuming, expensive and need careful research and specialist know-how. If you are a start-up or a small business entrepreneur such barriers often seem huge. So, a new £5.2 million programme to boost innovation in Oxfordshire’s small and medium sized business community (SMEs) is a positive initiative.

Ideas and innovations are vital to the future of the Oxfordshire economy, so helping SMEs to acquire skills, build networks and access resources is an important investment.

There is no shortage of ideas in small businesses, but too often what it takes to turn the idea into a reality seems out of reach. Amazing innovations happen at our universities and in bigger businesses’ because they have either the brains or the cash to invest, but there is huge potential for SMEs to join in too.

The new programme, Innovation Support for Business (ISfB) is looking to help build the connections, knowledge and means to enable smaller business to innovate by offering tailored support packages. ISfB is open to enterprises launching a new idea into the market, applying innovations within their businesses or working collaboratively with research institutions.

“It will make a genuine difference for entrepreneurs who might otherwise find it difficult to make their projects a reality” said Richard Byard, Director of Business Development at Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP). “Bigger companies are very good at this, but it’s not so easy if you are a start-up or a smaller business. They find it difficult to connect to the research facilities they need and to partner with research institutions in developing ideas.”

“Through the ISfB programme, a smaller business will be able to get support to build relationships, access research resources and help to bring their new ideas to market.”

It is a sentiment shared by Professor Chas Bountra, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Innovation at the University of Oxford: “The impact for Oxfordshire in terms of jobs, growth and prosperity will be visible to all. I want Oxford to rapidly become the innovation capital of Europe”.

Half of the funding for the programme is coming from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Partners delivering the programme with OxLEP are matching the investment. These include the University of Oxford, Cherwell District Council, Oxford City Council and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Helen Brind, the Growth Hub Manager at OxLEP Business said: “The programme is open to any enterprise in Oxfordshire. And it is by no means exclusive to cutting edge or technology-based enterprises. With a few exceptions such as agriculture and fisheries, most sectors can participate. We want to hear from any entrepreneur looking to do something differently.”

Recognising that no two projects are the same, the ISfB programme will meet with each client to understand their needs and develop a bespoke package of support for them. This can include one-to-one coaching and mentoring, workshops and Go-Create grants. The programme team is also facilitating access to specialist expertise, equipment and resources which are typically available only to larger companies. Such as the affordable Agile wet chemistry lab at Begbroke Science Park, which is now open for business, soon to be followed by a fully kitted out Prototyping lab. The Bicester Eco Business Centre and the SmartOxford Incubator will also offer co-working space for entrepreneurs just starting out.

Helen Brind explained: “You can access outstanding support from experienced people with the relevant skills to match your needs. Our workshops, seminars and masterclasses offer insights to help in developing and commercialing ideas. Go-Create grants from £1,000 to £50,000 are also available for up to 33% of project costs.

OxLEP’s Chief Executive Nigel Tipple says this is a significant initiative, encouraging SMEs to participate in the growth of Oxfordshire’s economy at a time when there is so much change.

“It’s important that our SMEs are actively-engaged and aware of how they can be innovative; not just to support their own growth, but also Oxfordshire’s continued emergence as a genuine global asset.”

Ultimately, this is a chance for SMEs moving from ‘potential’ to ‘actual’ innovation. To use an old phrase: an idea that stays on the design table is just that, an idea.

What is the ISfB Programme doing for business?

Helping you to develop and commercialise new ideas
Supporting you to establish new links with researchers to develop for your business
Enhancing research and innovation infrastructure in Oxfordshire
Promoting business investment in research and innovation

What is available for your enterprise?

Go-Create Grants.
Coaching and mentoring
Workshops, seminars and masterclasses.
Access to equipment, expertise and resources

Want to find out more?

Contact the ISfB team at:
innovation@oxfordshirelep.com