By Sophie Bate, KQ Liverpool 

A few weeks ago I met up with Dr. Duncan Robertson, Head of the Technology Directorate at the University of Liverpool, to find out more about their pump priming investment scheme. This is an initiative that offers local SMEs the opportunity to access the technologies and expertise within the Directorate, which supports much of the research in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences.

In addition to strengthening links between the University and the local business community, a primary aim of the scheme is to provide businesses in the area with the chance to transform innovative ideas that may have otherwise remained undeveloped into tangible products and services.

From my discussion with Duncan, it was clear that this scheme has the potential to generate huge benefits for SMEs within the region. Therefore, I was surprised to hear that the scheme wasn’t better known amongst the business community.

So why aren’t more businesses aware of this great opportunity? Well, traditionally academia and industry have been apprehensive about entering into partnerships with one another, and lack of communication can sometimes create an obstacle which stands in the way of successful collaboration. However, the benefits that can be gained from the commercialisation of research innovation are too great to be overlooked, which is the exact reason why we’ve decided to join forces with the Technology Directorate and further promote interaction between local businesses and the University. Ultimately, we want to ensure that as many SMEs as possible can take advantage of this fantastic scheme.

First off, my mission was to find out how the pump priming investment scheme worked. Duncan told me that to begin with the business must have a research idea which can be used as part of their core business plan. The regional businesses (those who reside in the North of England) that fit the criteria can apply for a voucher that will provide up to £10,000 worth of access to technology within the Directorate’s Shared Research Facilities (SRFs). If they’re successful with their application, not only will they gain access to world-class research facilities, but they’ll be able to work alongside some of the brightest brains in the City.

This scheme is designed to fund small pump-priming projects that have the potential to develop new areas of research and collaboration. In an increasingly competitive world, the SMEs that will grow and prosper are the ones that succeed in generating high impact work that the world will notice, but in order to do this, more often than not, very expensive pieces of kit are required.

But no matter how great their research idea may be, most SMEs don’t have the capital required to invest in these big technologies. That is why schemes such as this one which give them £10,000 worth of access to instruments and expertise, can be absolutely priceless to small businesses. It enables them to carry out a preliminary study, which could offer new insights and provide solutions to major business problems.

Whilst the length of time that a business can access the SRF varies depending on the research project, it’s generally between 6 months to a year. However, if the research is a success, the business can then apply for a wide range of external funding to continue with their work.

My conversation with Duncan was a real eye-opener. Not only have I learnt how businesses in the region are able to access world-class equipment, such as MRI scanners and confocal microscopes, but they can also receive advice and support, from experimental planning to data analysis, from world-class scientists. And the best part about it? The scheme is completely free of charge.

With Liverpool fast becoming a major hub for science, tech and innovation, there’s never been a better time for the University and local businesses to join forces for the greater good. I do however have one last question for Duncan…How do businesses interested in this scheme take this forward?

To find out the answer, or to ask Duncan your own burning questions, join us at our next In The Know breakfast on 23rd May.

“Our Shared Research Facilities have been supporting the research of our staff for many years. We’d now like local businesses to discover what a great service they offer and how much benefit they can provide.’’ – Dr. Duncan Robertson, UoL 

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