While most are familiar with the concept that universities provide professional qualifications, short courses and executive development, there is much more on offer - especially for individuals and SMEs. Universities are not the ‘ivory tower' some people think they are. They have a long history of working with businesses of all sizes in a variety of ways and boast links with companies across the globe.


Many academics have real world experience garnered from industry backgrounds and are keen to work with businesses to inform their own research and teaching, making them a viable resource for today's organisations.

The majority of universities now have a dedicated team or department to work with business to help find an innovative solution to a problem, or assist in transforming an innovative idea into a commercial opportunity. Once you've made contact it's easier to access ongoing support and you could benefit from practical help driven by the latest research knowledge, access to research and development facilities, networking events, and full or part-funded programs.


For example, the Grant Capture Team at Nottingham Trent University support academics and industry partners who wish to bid for funding support. They provide advice and support funding applications for grants provided by the European Union, Technology Strategy Board (TSB), charities and trusts.   

One of the schemes managed by the TSB is government-funded Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs), which can help to resolve issues that you may not otherwise have the resources or expertise to tackle. KTPs are available nationwide, with over 1,000 partnerships running at any one time and over 1,100 associate projects.

The government part funds the KTP along with the company and the contributions vary depending on the length of the project and the size of the business. At the end of a KTP, new knowledge and skills are embedded in the company to deliver future growth for the business.

European funding has also created a lot of opportunities for businesses to work with universities through individual projects. At Nottingham Trent University, the European Regional Development Fund has part-financed our sustainable design project, Future Factory.  The team helps SMEs in the East Midlands to understand how sustainability issues affect their business development. As well as free workshops and seminars, they also match the needs of the businesses with expertise and staff from across the university and work with industry to bid for funding.


Because universities have expertise in a number of different disciplines, you could receive support for a variety of different issues. For example, a former bar manager from Nottingham also recently launched a Cameroonian food stall after the project brought together academics from three different university departments to help him with both the business and food technology side of the launch. He also received external support for branding and design, arranged through the same project.

For budding entrepreneurs and new businesses, university incubation units can also be a valuable resource. They offer programmes which are designed specifically to help entrepreneurs identify and evaluate business opportunities, prepare their business plan and understand the principles of running a business.

As well as helping with the development of a business, they can also offer on-going mentoring and inexpensive office space.  The environment that business incubators create is often helpful in itself because of the networking opportunities and the chance to link-up with likeminded individuals and businesses.


Since its launch in 2001, Nottingham Trent University's Centre for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise, The Hive, has helped more than 250 start-up companies ranging from designers and software developers, to photographers and an electronics distributor who made £1 million turnover in his first year of trading.

If you're short on people power, universities offer a readily available pool of talent in the form of students. So think about whether you can offer a meaningful opportunity for an undergraduate, postgraduate or professional student, whether it is part of a short or long term placement, an internship, a sponsored degree, or just a one-off project. This gives you an additional key resource and gives the workforce of the future an opportunity to work within a real business.

Some universities also run postgraduate placement schemes with local private organisations to give postgraduates the chance to engage in a variety of work-based projects.

The benefits are mutual: postgraduates get real work experience and skills, and the opportunity to start earning, whilst SMEs gain bright, capable individuals keen to make a positive impact within the organisation. Postgraduates work on a part-time flexible basis and can be recruited from a wide range of disciplines.


An even easier way to get involved with universities is to attend guest lectures, which are often free and are given by leaders in a variety of industries and fields. They also usually include an element of networking with other guests.

An important role of higher education is to promote innovation, enterprise and skills, not just among students, but in the local, regional and national community. University support is on your doorstep and can play a vital part in helping your business to grow.


 Jeremy Hague                    

head of the Business Innovation Team at Nottingham Trent University