Forty SMEs are today being announced as the first winners of a groundbreaking voucher scheme which aims to create a positive link between SMEs and the Universities in the West Midlands region.
The £240k pilot of the INDEX - INnovaton Delivers EXpansion - project offers 40 companies with between 1 and 250 employees the opportunity to receive an innovation voucher, worth £3000 which they are able to spend with any of 13 different Higher Education establishments across the region. Funded by the Regional Development Agency, Advantage West Midlands (AWM), the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the voucher will allow businesses to gain access to appropriate academic resources at one of the participating organisations who will work with them to generate real innovation for a particular project or situation.
Similar voucher innovation schemes are already running successfully in the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland. The Netherlands scheme is a Government funded scheme that has given 1100 Innovation Vouchers to SMEs over 3 years. Of those 800 SMEs have continued working with the research institution of their choice. In Ireland, through another a Government scheme launched this year, they have funded 200 vouchers in the first round and have just closed their second round of vouchers.
Brokered by Aston University the need for the INDEX scheme within the UK was highlighted by a study in 2003 which highlighted the opportunities and barriers for SMEs working with universities.
Professor Julia King, Vice Chancellor of Aston University comments, "We believe that the innovation voucher scheme will serve, in part, to address the issues that SMEs raised about universities. It will enable innovation across the SME community through this method of knowledge transfer and it will aim to sustain these relationships and benefit both the regional and national economy."
The next round of vouchers is planned to be advertised in April 2008.
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NOTES FOR EDITORS:
1.Participating universities include; University of Warwick, Keele University, Coventry University, Harper Adams University College, University of Worcester, Open University, University of Wolverhampton, UCE Birmingham, Newman College of Higher Education, Staffordshire University, University of Birmingham, College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies and Aston University.
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