Management KTP at Leeds Beckett - one year in
Twelve months ago, we launched the new management Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (mKTPs) at Leeds Beckett University. In this blog post, Jo Griffiths – post-award team manager – reflects on what we’ve learnt, what’s been successful and what makes her positive about future opportunities.
Leeds Beckett currently has funding for three mKTPs and we’ve been one of the most successful universities nationally in accessing the new pot of funding. Our first project went live this week, recruitment for our second project is about to start, and we’re busy writing the job description for our most recently funded project.
We are now working on the proposal for a fourth project and are having rewarding conversations with a number of businesses that we hope are the start of longer term collaborations that lead to further applications.
To date, all three of our projects are with manufacturing businesses in the Leeds City Region. All three of them are mature, well run and profitable businesses. They haven’t come to work with Leeds Beckett because they’re a business in crisis.
What they share is a knowledge that to continue to operate a successful business and create sustainable growth for the future they need to do the very best with the resources they have.
The challenges in the businesses are all different – from improving productivity and performance; shifting and adapting company culture; embedding new systems and decision-making frameworks and exploring new markets and opportunities. All have in common a people-focused approach at the heart of it.
What we've learnt - businesses don't know what they don't know
There is a LOT of support available for businesses from dedicated Growth Managers at the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to individual support providers.
But getting access to that support, and to the right support, is confusing and sometimes more difficult than it should be. Too many businesses either don’t engage, think it’s not for them or give up due to the complexity of navigating the business support landscape.
Sometimes the language we use doesn’t help – innovation can be a scary word. Understanding the individual challenges and the potential solutions is key as is identifying that there’s no one-size fits all description for innovation but most of all that it’s accessible to their business.
So, if businesses don’t know that support exists, imagine how their minds are blown when they find out that there are universities out there that want to engage with them and that there are hefty chunks of government money to support that. We need to send the message that Leeds Beckett has practical academics delivering ‘real world’ insight and counter the misconceptions that can put businesses off working with a university.
We need to engage with businesses who currently dismiss innovation as something that doesn’t apply to them – when we do it becomes rewarding for all parties.
Businesses also confess that they sometimes don’t fully know what’s going on in their own business.
Yes, they’re making a profit but where are they making a profit – what should they be doing more (and less) of to help the business grow? One of the challenges is that, particularly for SMEs, they’re so busy working IN the business they don’t get time to work ON the business.
And this feels even more true during a time of change and crisis and 2020 has provided plenty of that.
mKTP really addresses that and facilitates the business to harness and interpret the data and knowledge in the business that already exists to identify both challenges and opportunities. By doing this innovation becomes achievable and meaningful to the business.
What’s been successful: Our engagement with SMEs has never been higher
Even in a time of pandemic business owners and directors recognise that they could, and some cases need, to improve the business in order to survive and grow. And they are prepared to make the space in their diaries to do so.
This year the university has delivered a number of business support programmes and without exception uptake from businesses has been excellent.
Our ERDF funded support programme for early stage businesses: ACCELERATE has run three cohorts as planned this year (two of them digitally) but our numbers engaged have been our best yet and the quality of engagement with the businesses has been rich and productive.
In October we started delivery of a new business support programme through a partnership with the Chartered Association of Business Schools: Small Business Leadership Programme. Aimed at more mature SMEs it is providing support for leaders to drive business resilience, productivity and growth to survive and thrive beyond COVID. We are mid-way through the first cohort, we’ve almost filled the second and have just added a third cohort due to the level of demand.
Taking the time to get under the skin of the businesses we’re talking to and really understand the challenges and uniqueness of that business reaps rewards. No business is the same and mKTP responds to that brilliantly. It presents an opportunity to bring together academics from complementary but different backgrounds.
We can pair strategic marketing with change management; development of a board structure with staff engagement and incentive scheme development. By understanding the business challenges we’re in a good place to respond.
What’s positive about the future: Businesses want to engage and they want to run their businesses better
We can see that from our engagement on our programmes and we hear it in the conversations we have with businesses every day. Businesses will still prioritise strategic growth and change even in a time of uncertainty.
Funding is there to support businesses. The Small Business Leadership Programme is being provided completely free of charge due to funding from Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. Funding for KTP and mKTP remains constant and given early indications from this week’s Spending Review may be about to increase.
Management KTP remains a strategic priority for Innovate UK. The Head of Programme, Richard Lamb, just issued a challenge to the sector for us to collectively find another 100 mKTP projects in the next year.
The work that we’re doing to grow our university’s part in this will reap rewards in grant funding, opportunities for our staff and job creation with each project creating at least one new FTE role.
mKTP fits with our place as an anchor institution – improving productivity, safeguarding jobs and businesses, creating new opportunities as well as increasing academic knowledge and expertise are all central to our role in the region.
More change is likely but that presents opportunity to work with an even wider group of business. In the last year the funding guidelines around mKTP have changed - what was originally a rigid rule around company size has now been relaxed.
SMEs are very definitely the prime target for funding but slightly larger businesses are now being considered. Projects could now be split to include elements of core KTP (traditionally more STEM based) with the management KTP ethos and this could bring in other areas of the university.
Get in touch!
We are very keen to hear from any businesses, and academic colleagues, who are interested in working with us - on mKTP projects or in any other capacity. Please get in touch by emailing me at email@example.com or calling 0113 812 5981.