I’ve been delighted to see the government taking an active role in protecting and promoting the interests of small businesses and entrepreneurs, through engagement with business schools and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Earlier this year the government and the Association of Business Schools (ABS) began working together on implementing a Small Business Charter to this end.

The call for this initiative became clearer when evidence submitted to the Witty Review – an independent review into how universities could support local growth – found that many universities were working well with the local business community, but recommended that the points of contact between universities and SMEs needed to be more visible and numerous.

“As 95% of all businesses in the UK are Small or Medium Enterprises, engaging with these businesses is vital for catalysing the economy and ensuring universities are shaping future growth.”

In his report Growing your Business, Lord Young, the Prime Minister’s advisor on Enterprise, described business schools as “anchor institutions”, and advocated that there should be deeper collaboration between business schools and SMEs. As we have identified, business schools can do more to be translators of invention; acting as agents of innovation and growth in the business and policy communities.

Universities are engines of growth, providing the next generation of highly-skilled workers, services to business, consultancy and training, alongside the dissemination of knowledge. Higher Education is one of Britain’s major exports, and operates in a global market. Universities UK forecast that our world-class Higher Education sector contributed an output of over £73 billion and more than 750,000 full-time jobs.

Closer to home, Higher Education has a positive impact on the domestic economy and at a local level. Jobs are provided for the local community as well as support, skills and expertise for local entrepreneurs and employers. As 95% of all businesses in the UK are Small or Medium Enterprises, engaging with these businesses is vital for catalysing the economy and ensuring universities are shaping future growth.

The ABS is working with the government to deliver the Small Business Charter to show how business schools and small businesses can support each other more, and be rewarded for doing so. The awards aim to support the excellence and expertise of the UK’s world leading business schools, and drive growth into start-ups and small and medium enterprises. I want people who believe they have the drive to become the next Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg to be seriously thinking about enrolling on a course at the kind of business school that is striving to deliver the same level of partnership, engagement and innovation that is at the heart of these awards.

The way the Small Business Charter works is simple. Business schools can apply for different award levels:  Gold, Silver or Bronze.  Business schools in receipt of a Small Business Charter Award will be eligible to access and disseminate various different Government funding initiatives such as Growth Vouchers, Growth Accelerators and Start Up Loans.  Those who demonstrate stronger levels of engagement with local businesses, and provide more start-up advice and support for their students, are more likely to gain the higher award and thereby to have access to more Government funding.

The charter awards benefit business schools by improving student recruitment and progression, and enhancing their network and reputation. Local business benefits from greater access to talent, support and funding. Students also gain access to institutions that develop their commercial skills and experience, increasing their chances of being employed and of their businesses flourishing.

“Greater collaboration will support and foster excellence in entrepreneurialism, ensuring universities remain critical to the future potential and prosperity of the UK – helping to turn business ideas into practice.”

There is a great tradition in this country of business schools working with small businesses to achieve great things. Surveying examples of entrepreneurial partnerships that already exist shows the growing appetite for small businesses getting greater support from business schools. For example, five leading business schools are working under the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small business programme, which provides students with greater access to education, capital and business support. Across a range of sectors – including biotechnology, retail, pubs and restaurants – businesspeople have been supported to take their ideas to the next stage. For example, Rana Harvey attended Leeds University Business School, which helped her convert her small mannequin retail business called “Dazzling Dummies” into a business called “Monster Group”, distributing products globally with one of the subsidiaries “Monster Racking” becoming the UK’s leading suppliers of racking solutions.

Equally, Manchester Metropolitan University Business School supported a scientist who formed his own company, Euprotec, which now provides research services on infectious diseases, respiratory and allergy biology services. These are just some of the ways entrepreneurs are finding the support and formal training in select business schools.

In their response to the Witty Review, the government has championed the importance of the Small Business Charter for forging closer relationships between business schools and local SMEs. Greater collaboration will support and foster excellence in entrepreneurialism, ensuring universities remain critical to the future potential and prosperity of the UK – helping to turn business ideas into practice. Of course, entrepreneurship is about taking a risk with the aspiration of great rewards. Selecting a business school and the investment prospective students make is key, so it is important to choose wisely. The Small Business Charter will help our future entrepreneurs to identify the best business schools and give them the tools and resources they need to succeed. 

Paul Marshall is Chief Executive of the Association of Business Schools.

To find out more about the Small Business Charter visit http://smallbusinesscharter.org/. For updates on the awards and which business schools are applying follow @SmallBizCharter

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