SMEs in the West Midlands are benefiting from world-class research and consultancy from the region’s universities, thanks to a unique scheme developed by Aston University.
Aston is the lead partner in the Innovation Vouchers project, which enables SMEs to access academic support and expertise from any of the thirteen Higher Education Institutions in the West Midlands.
The Innovation Vouchers project is the first of its kind in the UK. Closely modelled on a similar scheme in the Netherlands, it aims to build links between universities and businesses, and create a demand-led approach to consultancy. SMEs are invited to apply for a voucher which entitles them to £3000 of academic and research support from Aston or any other regional HEI.
To date, vouchers have been purchased by a wide range of companies, for very different projects, from creative industries to electronics and manufacturing. For example, a recent collaboration took place between Mcburney Scientific and members of Aston Business School.
Mcburney was introducing a new scientific product based on their robust sensor for continuously monitoring soil moisture and temperature. They wanted help to develop their future business model and marketing plan. They enlisted the support of Dr Brigitte Nicolaud and MBA student, Vikash Aggarwal, who identified the perception of the product amongst farmers, determined the potential demand for the product, and devised a pricing structure and marketing plan.
The Innovation Vouchers project has made a huge impact since its launch in April 2007. 220 vouchers were awarded during the pilot phase, thanks to funding from numerous sources including Advantage West Midlands (AWM), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). A further 120 vouchers were made available in early 2009, thanks to funding from AWM.
In 2008, the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform revealed its plans to launch a national innovation voucher scheme, due to the success of Innovation Vouchers.
Research carried out at Aston Business School is furthering our understanding of the benefits and impact of foreign direct investment (FDI) on the UK economy.
It is easy to assume that FDI is a good thing for national and regional economies, however there is relatively little consensus on whether this is the case. The research team, led by Professors Nigel Driffield and Jim Love, aims to establish the benefits and pitfalls of heavy FDI, for example, by looking at the ‘spillover’ effects in terms of knowledge transfer.
One of the key advances made by the Aston researchers is to distinguish clearly between different motivations for firms undertaking FDI, and to evaluate the effects of both inward FDI and outward FDI from the perspective of the UK. Inward investment into the UK comes overwhelmingly from sectors and countries which have a technological advantage over the corresponding UK sector. The project highlights the difficulty for policy makers of simultaneously improving employment and domestic productivity through FDI. The analysis has subsequently been employed by UKTI, the government body charged with providing support to multinationals investing in the UK, and various local regional development agencies.
The team has also carried out a specific project for the Manchester Independent Economic Review, which has generated a better understanding of the importance of inward investment for the Manchester economy and analysed the indirect benefits of domestic and foreign investment in Manchester. The study also provides the strategic underpinnings for mid-to-long term inward (and indigenous) investment plans, and provides an evidence base with which to develop future local policy goals.