Government funding worth more than £44,000 has been awarded to Northumbria University’s Newcastle Business School to develop a digitally-enabled service offering free student-led consultancy to SMEs.

The funding is part of a £2 million Business Basics Fund launched by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Newcastle Business School is among just 15 successful bids across the UK to win funding on the projects designed to help small businesses make better use of technology and modern management practices.

The Innovate UK funding is being used to develop a Digitally Enabled Business Clinic (DEBC) model – based on the success of Northumbria’s own Business Clinic where final year students work on a range of projects with real clients. The concept of the DEBC is that it can be scaled up and offered to SME’s as a free consultancy service by other universities across the UK.

The project will determine whether a DEBC concept is a cost-effective way for SMEs to interact with a local university, gain pro-bono neutral advice, access state of the art knowledge and have the added value of the younger generation perspective. Newcastle Business School established its Business Clinic in 2013. Since then the total value of the students’ free consultancy advice and reports has been estimated, by more than 200 clients, to exceed £1.2m.

The concept of the DEBC is that it can be scaled up and offered to SME’s as a free consultancy service by other universities across the UK.

The Business Basics Fund forms part of the Government’s plan to boost national productivity through its modern Industrial Strategy and is delivered in partnership with Innovate UK and global innovation foundation NESTA. The digital enabled concept will allow SMEs to maintain focus on their day to day operations whilst collaborating with universities on a specific area they have identified for development or growth.

Managing Director of Cycle Hub, Jill Hopkirk, who worked with students from Newcastle Business School’s Business Clinic, said: “I’m in no doubt that the team’s research into untapped potential markets and how we can grow our current customer base will prove valuable to our business as we look to promote and facilitate cycling across the region’s hotel, student and tourism sectors”.

Research informed learning and the application to real life business situations is the key strength that universities can bring to SMEs. Hexhamshire Organics who worked with the Northumbria University students said of their project: “it had thorough coverage and excellent, well-researched recommendations”.

The support doesn’t just stop at the business itself, the outcomes of the recommendations created as part of the consultancy often results in wider community benefits and impact.

The UK industrial Strategy aims to support universities and businesses working together to innovate. Northumbria University aims to use their insight and expertise, to develop an innovative mechanism to enable UK businesses to easily connect with other UK universities and replicate the impact they have created through the Business Clinic.