We’ve spoken with Victor Haider, Business Engagement Manager at Birmingham City University to discuss how the University’s Innovation Workshops can help SMEs achieve growth in 2019.
For many SMEs, the New Year is the perfect opportunity to take stock and start to plan for the year ahead. As well as marketing, financial and growth targets, innovation is also on the agenda for many businesses this year as they look at how they can introduce new methods, ideas and products to stand out from the competition.
Victor explained how Birmingham City University has teamed up with Aston University to offer an ‘Innovation Vouchers’ scheme to SMEs in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) region.
The scheme is made up of two aspects, the first is Innovation Vouchers which allow SMEs to apply for a match-funded grant to facilitate innovation (e.g. new product development). The second is Business Innovation Workshops which are free for qualifying SMEs located within the GBSLEP area.
As Business Engagement Manager at Birmingham City University, Victor Haider acts as the conduit between the university and local SMEs. He determines what businesses are looking for and aligns their needs with the products, services, skills and knowledge available to the university.
The innovation workshops can accommodate attendees from approximately 25 different businesses; a number that still allows the intimacy for one-on-one guidance with academics, but also provides the opportunity to network with other businesses in a similar position or at a similar stage of growth.
All workshops are one day long, and provides hands-on learning and practically-applicable knowledge, for example, during one activity attendees are asked to map out their high and low points, both in terms of the business and their personal life. They’re then tasked with determining how they got from one point to the next and, if comfortable to do so, they’re asked to share their experiences. In a workshop with 20 attendees, for example, this activity generates 20 new pieces of best practice.
This is an activity that Victor finds particularly valuable: “Businesses are not just profit and loss, they are a person’s journey,” he commented, “We need to provide SMEs with the skills to manage their business both emotionally and financially. A business isn’t a simple spreadsheet, for many it’s a way of life. These workshops aim to give practical and personal support as well as tangible results.”
Once an attendee has completed two workshops, they’re awarded a ‘Managing Innovation in Business’ certification to represent their proactive approach and demonstrate to their customers, clients and partners that they’re actively pursuing innovation and business growth.
One of the main challenges SMEs face is cash flow, Victor finds: “The Marketing and Finance for Innovation Workshop is one that I’m really passionate about as I have 10 years’ experience within the banking sector. Many businesses aren’t aware of the many finance options available to them. They often believe that if they don’t have the funds, they’re unable to take their business forward. Our ‘Marketing and Finance for Innovation’ workshop addresses this and makes attendees aware of all the alternative funding avenues available.”
“The only thing attendees are required to invest is their time, and in return they will benefit from academic expertise and come away with fresh new insights and practically-applicable ideas to grow and innovate their businesses,” said Victor, “Afterwards, many SMEs maintain an ongoing relationship with Birmingham City University as a source of guidance and support."