Introducing the Digital Innovation Fund: UWE Bristol’s £1m Covid-19 Recovery Fund

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In response to Covid-19, UWE Bristol is launching a Digital Innovation Fund to help businesses to innovate during these turbulent times. 

UWE’s Digital Innovation Fund provides business support and £1m in grants for small and medium sized business in the West of England. 

The scheme, funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), offers eligible businesses innovation grants from £10,000 to £40,000 to fund 35% of project costs.

Grants are open to businesses in any sector that want to innovate and address new challenges that have arisen from Covid-19. Applicants must be small or medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and based in Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset, North Somerset or South Gloucestershire.

Deadlines for application: 8 July.

Apply now

Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprise Professor Martin Boddy commented: “UWE Bristol is delighted to open its Digital Innovation Fund, £1m  of grant funding to support businesses in the West of England to address  new challenges caused by Covid-19.

Any SME in the area that is undertaking a digital innovation or research and development project should consider applying. We are offering a sliding scale of grants, from £10k to £40k, so hopefully there is a funding option for a range of businesses – from start-ups and micro enterprises, to more established organisations. The application process is straightforward and UWE Bristol staff are available to provide hands-on support through a series of confidential 1:1 drop-in sessions.

Digital Innovation Fund follows on from previous successful grant funding schemes run by the University, which has given £2m of grants to thriving businesses in the West of England, creating over 150 new jobs and over 100 new products and services. We are looking forward to this new fund delivering similar benefits to the local economy, and helping individual SMEs to innovate and grow.

In a time of unprecedented change, UWE Bristol is proud of the role it can play to support the region’s SMEs in responding to the pandemic and financial crisis.

Now is the time to innovate.

The Digital Innovation Fund is funded by the European Regional Development Fund.


Notes to editors:

European Regional Development Fund:

The project (has received) £4,230,000 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.  The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund.

Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations.  For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.

West of England region: All organisations with a presence in Bristol, Bath, BANES and South Gloucestershire.

UWE Bristol awards grants to local businesses as part of Scale up 4 Growth Initiative

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Scale Up 4 Growth (S4G) is a free programme of support, being delivered by UWE Bristol, NatWest and Foot Anstey, for businesses in the West of England that are looking to grow, expand and scale. As part of this ERDF funded programme, 27 successful businesses have been awarded grants ranging between £10k and £40k to help their businesses grow.

Since launching last year nearly 350 businesses have registered for S4G support, which also includes fully funded workshops and 1-to-1 expertise. The companies who applied for S4G grant funding were rigorously assessed through a competitive process. The 27 selected businesses received grants totalling £800,000.

The successful businesses have come from a big range of sectors and areas including digital, data, health tech, waste, recycling, media, microelectronics, b2b, social enterprise, as well food and drink businesses. The list ranges from an award-winning, independent, artisan bakery and café, to a company who have developed the world’s first chemical-free pool filter

Find out more about the Scale Up 4 Growth programme and hear from some of the businesses that were successful in receiving grants

See the website for the list of all successful businesses.

Programme Director, Tracey John commented:

“Scale Up 4 Growth is the in region to support the businesses that need some help to grow. It’s been great to work with the successful businesses that have got some exciting growth plans but just need that extra little bit of support that the University can give. Working with NatWest and Foot Anstey as partners on this programme has been fantastic and they have been hugely supportive throughout.”

Director Commercial Banking at NatWest, Matt Hatcher commented:

“NatWest has thoroughly enjoyed working with UWE and Foot Anstey on the S4G programme, helping SMEs get access to quality coaching, knowledge and funding to support their ambitious growth plans”.

Partner at Foot Anstey, Nathan Peacey commented:

“Foot Anstey have found the S4G programme both inspiring and rewarding”

The successful businesses met for the first time at a celebration event held at UWE Bristol’s University Enterprise Zone on Wednesday 23 October. The breakfast event gave the businesses the opportunity to meet other successful businesses and share what the money means to them.

The Scale Up 4 Growth team continue to work with the successful businesses. To find out more about potentially funding opportunities and how we could help your business sign up to the Research, Business and Innovation newsletter from UWE Bristol or email uwebusiness@uwe.ac.uk

To find out more about S4G please visit the website.

Notes to Editors:

Scale Up 4 Growth will receive up to £1,200,000 of funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is the programme’s Managing Authority. Established by the European Union, the ERDF helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects that support innovation, businesses, job creation and local community regeneration.

Network for Creative Enterprise: a few highlights of achievements, challenges, learning and what next.

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In this blog post, Network Producer Vanessa Bellaar Spruijt shares an update on one of UWE Bristol’s ERDF funded programmes -Network for Creative Enterprise (NfCE).

NfCE is made up of four hubs across Bristol and Bath: Watershed, The Guild (Coworking Bath), Knowle West Media Centre and Spike Island.

Each hub has offered residency opportunities with free space and a package of business development support. By bringing together expertise from fine art to fabrication to creative technology, the network has been better equipped to share resources and provide business development opportunities to the creative sector.

Network for Creative Enterprise has enabled the partners to offer tailored events, workshops and mentoring for individuals and small enterprises to support their business development from the idea stage through to start-up and on to growth.
Over the duration of the project 138 creatives have worked at the hubs and have engaged in 35 creative development workshops and other learning opportunities.

The NfCE partnership and supported programme finishes at the end of June 2019 with an Exhibition called ‘Another Way Works: an exhibition of creative business journeys. Find out more about the exhibiton and how to get involved here.

I am the Network Producer for NfCE at Watershed in Bristol and presented recently to producers of similar projects and the Department for Culture, Digital, Media and Sport as part of Arts Council England’s Creative Local Growth Fund away day. I talked about some of our achievements and learnings and thought it would be good to also share them here (although turning a talk into a blog post is a much harder task than I imagined).

NfCE is a network working in partnership between the UWE Bristol and four West of England hubs: The Guild co-working space in Bath and three Bristol hubs: Spike Island, KWMC The Factory and Watershed. NfCE is funded by Arts Council England and the European Regional Development Fund.

The partnership finishes at the end of June 2019. To explain a little about how we work: each hub has a producer and offers business support for creative individuals and micro companies to develop their creative idea into an economically sustainable enterprise, they are also offered free space for the duration of the programme.

Our support is shaped in two ways:
1) a pre-planned programme, including business mentoring sessions, law and tax clinics, business development bursaries and producer support.
2) a highly flexible and evolving strand of activity consisting of workshops, intensive courses and bespoke support which is responsive to residents’ needs.

Just like most worthwhile experiences in life, the success of this programme has people at the heart of it. As this resident at KWMC The Factory who has recently cut down her salaried days in order to build her own jewellery and exhibition business reflects:

“NfCE has been more to me than access to amazing facilities, information and funding. It has helped me connect with like-minded people and it’s really changed my working life being able to bounce ideas around and get inspired! I’m very proud to be part of a network with such talented and supportive residents and staff alike!”

Network for Creative Enterprise has all sorts of impact, but I think the two key achievements are:
1) Establishing a network of organisations who are all working towards a common talent development programme with the ability to share learning in real time.

Some of the hubs we are working with didn’t have mature residency programmes and the programme has enabled a more robust offering with good sharing and co-working practices thereby strengthening the talent support capacity in the region (which is the West of England). By bringing together expertise from fine art to fabrication and creative technology, we are better equipped to share resources and provide business development opportunities to the growing freelance and micro-enterprise ecology within the cultural and creative sector.

2) Creating a network of peers to support each other that will outlast the project.

We currently have 138 active residents across the hubs and over 900 people participating in wider activity. They are increasingly active in forging peer to peer relationships as our activities invite residents to the different hubs, allowing for more cohesion between the physical locations and the opportunities we each have to offer. Peer support networks are a strong focus area for our final activity on the programme.

Naturally, this complex project has a series of challenges, but I think the two main challenges are:

1) Metrics

Although, reasonably, we are asked to measure impact (in this case in the form of progress against targets) in order to justify our funding, this can be hard in our sector. Most notably, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) defines a job as nothing less than a year long, full time contract (or two part-time posts equivalent) which is difficult to reconcile with the broader economic realities in the cultural and creative sector.

34% of the creative industry workforce is made up of freelancers. A snapshot of a part of our community shows that the majority of people are working upwards of 20 hours per week on their own business and are paying themselves a base salary in most cases, but not enough to be recognised as a job by ERDF. A smaller group have PAYE staff but typically for two or three days per week on a six-month contract which, again, does not count. Moreover, during this project most residents, businesses or sole traders, are hiring or have hired temporary freelancers amounting to hundreds of days of work but zero ‘jobs’ by the official definition.

Not being able to count the economic activity of the eco-system is unrepresentative and therefore a risk for the future funding of similar projects. We no longer live in an industrialised world, where linear rapid growth metrics apply. The creative sector with its high proportion of freelancers, so called ‘life style businesses’, cross sector collaborations and disruptive innovation is a complex mixed bag that deserves the right support at the right time to flourish.

2) Budget Inflexibility

To meet ERDF requirements the budgets for this project were very precisely created at the onset with specific activity and spend allocations. As explained, we structure the majority of our programme to be responsive to the needs and demands of our resident communities and hence some of the ideas we had at the beginning have needed to change to support development of the individual residents.

The inflexibility around budget categories and procurement thresholds means that we are regularly re-inventing the wheel around types of support as well as struggling to find capacity to produce new programmes that we would like to pay for.

We have not successfully overcome these challenges, but we have mostly found a compromise. We have shaped our programme to reach the targets we need, while working hard to protect the ability to create meaningful support. Despite the constraints we are over target on a range of categories, which is great for reporting purposes. In our world many of the residents have accelerated their businesses but it remains frustrating that this is not recognised by ERDF at present.

Clearly it is incredible and important that we have been given funding to create a programme like this and both ACE and ERDF teams have been nothing but brilliant in accommodating our programme needs, and working with a mixture of funders in collaboration is progressive. However, I also think it is important to highlight when some of the mechanisms around the funding criteria themselves do not work as well as they could do – for the sake of all of us working in the creative sector.

What is the most important lesson for us?

We are trying to support a complex ecosystem with diverse economic communities and hugely varying needs. Funding needs to be more flexible and more time needs to be built in to develop formats with participants.
We are working with people who are worried about registering with HMRC for taxes on one end of the scale, and people who need to set up a board because they have expanded their business so much on the other.
There are no linear pathways and hence we need to be as flexible as possible to allow us to offer the right support at the right time. That way we can really help businesses accelerate and grow.

The strength of the cultural sector is its diversity and therefore flexibility is vital.

What next?

On 6 June 2019 we will launch an exhibition ‘Another Way Works’ showcasing the unique maps of a selection of 12 creative business journeys that have taken place with support from Network for Creative Enterprise. This will be a chance to reflect on the programme and interrogate some of the business development stories in depth.

For most of June, the exhibition space at KWMC will become a place to share key learnings and insights from the NfCE programme, in the form of visual display and through a series of live events, including workshops. There will be activity for producers on these types of programmes as well as residents who enrol on these types of programmes. We will also focus on peer networks and signpost to other business support opportunities in the West of England.

The more we actively seek to recognise and celebrate difference, the more chance we have to create long-lasting and meaningful impact, networks and a vibrant creative ecosystem that is recognised for its economic worth as well as everything else.


UWE Bristol partners on European project DURABLE which will apply drones and robots to boost the deployment of renewable energies

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UWE Bristol is the UK partner for the DURABLE project which launched earlier in April. The initial meeting of the European Project DURABLE was held on April 12 in Bidart (France), with the objective of promoting the development of renewable energies in the Atlantic Area (France, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and United Kingdom). The Project has a budget of €3.9M and it is co-financed by the Interreg Atlantic Area Program through the European Regional Development Fund.

Durable aims to accelerate the performance of renewable energies through the validation and demonstration of aerospace technologies applied in robotics for operation and maintenance activities of wind and solar energy systems. The application of this technology will automate inspection and repair tasks, reducing costs and favoring production.

The common challenge addressed by DURABLE in the Interreg Atlantic Area framework is the need to change the current paradigm of the renewable energy sector through the transformation of the technological, institutional, industrial and social framework in the Atlantic area.

In fact, the Atlantic region is below the average of the European Union (EU) in the consumption of energy from renewable sources. Countries need to update their renewable energy production technologies to overcome these challenges.

For the first time, this project will apply disruptive aerospace, robotic, non-destructive inspection and additive manufacturing technologies to solve the current challenges in the operation and maintenance of wind and solar energy parks.

The project plans to map the available technologies and the needs in the operation and maintenance of solar and wind energy parks, to adapt them afterward. DURABLE will conclude with the realization of a model and a test of the solution in a pilot project.

The DURABLE project is formed by a consortium that brings together 10 partners from the 5 Atlantic countries divided into: 7 technological centers / universities, 2 clusters and 1 industrial partner. In addition, other 6 associated entities participate through an Advisory Board.

The project partners are as follows:

Technological centers / universities
• Ecole Supérieure des Technologies Industrielles Avancées (ESTIA) – France (líder)
• Centro Avanzado de Tecnologías Aeroespaciales (CATEC) – Spain
• Dublin City University – Ireland
• Instituto Superior Técnico – Portugal
• Lortek S. Coop – Spain
• Universidad de Sevilla – Spain
• University of the West of England, Bristol – United Kingdom

Clusters
• Clúster Vasco de Energía – Spain
• Corporación Tecnológica de Andalucía (CTA) –Spain

Industrial partners
• Alerion Technologies – Spain

Advisory Board
• Abengoa Energía – Spain
• Cluster Drones AETOS – France
• Altran – France
• Drona`tech – France
• Agencia IDEA – Spain
• Sociedad para la Transformación Competitiva (SPRI) – Spain

Do you have a hi-tech business idea? Launch Space offers free desk space for one year

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Recent graduates from across the UK who have a bright idea for a high-tech business are invited to apply for a free residency in ‘Launch Space‘ at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

‘Launch Space’, a graduate high-tech business incubator that provides start-ups with one year of free desk space and innovation support, is now accepting applications for new residencies that will commence from the end of October 2017.

High-tech, innovation and research focused graduate start-ups can benefit from the chance to develop business contacts, gain access to mentorship and talks by visiting companies.Press release image with logo

They are also able to access UWE Bristol’s research community, tap into student talent through work placements, internships and recruitment, and make full use of all the facilities offered on campus.

The Launch Space incubator forms part of a larger UWE Bristol innovation support programme funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Located in the £16m University Enterprise Zone on UWE Bristol’s Frenchay Campus, alongside the Future Space technology incubation centre and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, its residents benefit from co-location with other growing, innovative enterprises.

“We are particularly excited that, through launch Space, we can provide office space and innovation support to graduate-led start-ups. This helps the West of England to retain and nurture entrepreneurial talent and the University to build on its commitment to supporting enterprise,” said Professor Martin Boddy, who is UWE Bristol’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Business Engagement.

Residency in the incubator is available to individuals who have graduated from any UK university in the past three years. Those applying are required to have a UK-based business located or operating in the West of England (Bristol, Bath, South Gloucestershire, and North Somerset). If they are a pre-start enterprise, and have not yet registered their business, the Launch Space team can help with this process.

Interested graduates can apply for the new residencies online until 30 September 2017, with interviews planned for the first week of October. Those selected will then attend a three-day induction.

Current residents of Launch Space span a wide range of innovative technology ideas. One entrepreneur is designing an environmental mask that filters out harmful pollutants and automatically notifies the user when contaminants are present in the air. Another is designing an app to make it easier for the rental of student accommodation. The platform bypasses estate agents and removes the need to pay a deposit upfront.

Launch Space is part of a larger UWE Bristol programme that is receiving up to £2,000,000 of funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is the programme’s Managing Authority.

Established by the European Union, the ERDF helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects that support innovation, businesses, job creation and local community regeneration.