A multi-million pound project to create the first ever innovation super-network in the Tees Valley has been launched by Teesside University.
The university is working alongside DigitalCity, the North East of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) and the Materials Processing Institute to help grow the number of innovating, high-performing SMEs in the area.
Innovate Tees Valley has been made possible with a £3.8m grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
It aims to help SMEs overcome barriers to growth to bring in new products and services and reach new markets at home and abroad, by delivering tailor-made programmes of integrated, in-depth support.
Uniquely, qualifying companies will have access to the wide range of specialist expertise and the global networks of Innovate Tees Valley partners, making it possible to put together customised packages of support, part-funded by the ERDF grant.
Following an initial assessment of need, eligible businesses will be allocated a dedicated account manager who will put together the intensive support programme.
This could include market intelligence, technical support, including additive manufacturing, prototyping and piloting facilities for scale up, digital tech implementation, help with funding bids, technical mentoring through the innovation process and graduate/specialist placements to implement projects.
Laura Woods, director of the Forge, Teesside University’s business hub, said: “This is an exciting new approach to helping businesses to innovate.
“We wanted to get away from a one-size-fits-all formula, and make it as easy as possible for SMEs with ideas and ambitions to get exactly the help they need. That could be anything from support with a grant application to bringing in specialist technical expertise and talent to embed new techniques or deliver new processes or products.
“The beauty of this approach is that the partners are all working together on this. It means eligible SMEs have a straightforward route to the expertise and networks that can help them embed an innovation ethos, improve performance and productivity and compete in global markets.”
Rob Earnshaw, director of DigitalCity, added: “DigitalCity has a fantastic track record of helping companies implement the latest technological innovations to enable their businesses to grow.
“Through Innovate Tees Valley we can offer a package of interventions to SMEs which will help them improve their performance through digital innovation.”
NEPIC chief executive Stan Higgins added: “NEPIC’s industry leadership team are driven to support the development of innovative service and manufacturing SMEs.
“Our industry recognises that SME growth and supply chain diversity are key drivers of the local economy and vital for the sustainability of important clusters such as the chemical-process sector.
“By working across all industry and business sectors through the Innovate Tees Valley project we hope to help SMEs recognise that what they do is innovative, and assist them in developing products and services for sectors that they had potentially not yet considered.
“The Innovate Tees Valley partners can help such companies break down perceived commercial and technical barriers and bring new products and services to new and existing markets more quickly.”
Innovate Tees Valley is available to qualifying companies who employ fewer than 250 staff and have an annual turnover no greater than £40m per year.
• Pictured above (left to right): Rob Earnshaw, Stan Higgins, Laura Woods and Gerard Stephens.