Case study by Nottingham Trent University

Over the last year, 96 small businesses have been helped by Nottingham Trent University (NTU) to bring forward their plans for innovation in the workplace.

Many SMEs would like to innovate by developing new products and services, but lack the necessary skills and capacity to do so. Through the £7.6m ERDF Enabling Innovation Programme, NTU has launched the pioneering Innovation Community Lab (ICL) which uses graduate talent to introduce an innovative culture into business.

Designed and tailored to meet the needs of SMEs in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, the ICL is a six month programme delivered to the graduate “intrapreneurs” and also supporting the management teams in the businesses. Monthly workshops ensure that participants are equipped with the tools to develop, pitch and implement new processes, products and services within their organisation.

The programme is creating a new community of young innovators in the local area that shares good practice and fosters a supportive network across a range of business sectors.

The ICL programme blends university knowledge with industry expertise. The feedback from businesses following the first two programmes has been universally positive. Businesses reported that the programme has also helped to change the mindset of senior managers, who see the benefits of their employees attending the ICL. They have also reported a stronger appetite for growth as the programme has contributed to the business’ awareness and desire to be more productive and competitive.

Jordan Daniel, Lead Motion Graphic Designer at Affari Media, a Nottingham based creative marketing agency, attended the first series of ICL, said, “Throughout the course, I was able to identify areas of improvement that could be made to my team’s approach to knowledge sharing that would, in turn, enhance our productivity. I began to create a structure, which I slowly started to implement and test. By the end, this enhanced our productivity levels ten-fold. On the back of this, I started to mentor other colleagues to help them structure their own innovative ideas”.

As an anchor institution located in a core city, Nottingham Trent University is committed to playing a leading role in the social, cultural, economic and environmental development of the City and wider economic area. Michael Carr, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Employer and Economic Engagement explained, “The ICL project represents a further evolution of Nottingham Trent University’s innovative employer support initiatives. We are looking to support recruited graduates in their early stage-careers such that they make maximum impact within their employers. The programme has been well supported by businesses, many of whom are seeing significant benefit from this initiative.”

The University also believes that initiatives such as ICL can help extend local opportunities for student employment, which is a key strategic priority. The third series of the programme began in January and NTU is already looking to recruit the next cohort of participants which will begin in July as the programme continues to boost the innovation effort of SMEs in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

Published: 21 September 2018

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This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.