How University of Leicester is central to economic resurgence

Posted by ap507 at Oct 23, 2015 04:12 PM |
Leicester Business Festival runs from 26 October to 6 November

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 23 October 2015

Forward thinking, innovative projects and practical expertise in working with business are making the University of Leicester one of the main drivers of the 'Midlands Engine for Growth' - the term used by the Chancellor, George Osborne.

As a mark of its commitment, the University is the chief sponsor of the first Leicester Business Festival, running from 26 October to 6 November, with 84 events across eight business sectors being held across the city and county.

The University estimates that its presence contributes about £750million into the local economy every year, much of the impact coming from its numerous collaborative relationships with businesses, large and small.

The University of Leicester's Head of Regional Business Engagement, Anjuu Trevedi, says there has been a noticeable sea change in recent years in the number of small and medium companies who know their business can benefit by working with universities - but a majority still do not know how to go about engaging them to access the specialist expertise, research, technologies and facilities that are available.

This is why a key part of Anjuu’s job is to make it easy for regional companies to work with the University of Leicester by helping to develop and deliver innovation support programmes such as G-STEP, Innovation Partnerships, Space IDEAS Hub, ASDEC and IRSA.  All these programmes were designed to enable companies to more easily access the expertise within the University.  

All these programmes have been hugely successful. Through the Innovation through the Research Support Accelerator (IRSA), the University employed 20 postgraduates as researchers to deliver project-based applied R&D support to 20 East Midlands small to medium-sized businesses. The range of projects tackled were as diverse as an analysis of pubs and air quality monitoring through small sensor networks, to the relationship between undercover police and animal rights activists and mapping the impact of oil palm production on forests in Indonesia and Malaysia.

The Advanced Structural Dynamics Evaluation Centre (ASDEC) is another successful, project which recently scooped the Overall Winner 2015 at the Research Councils UK and PraxisUnico Impact Awards.  ASDEC applies vibration to structures and uses lasers to measure the bending and twisting that results. It has particular application in the automotive industry – an important sector in the region. But it also delivers value in a range of other areas such as the design of musical instruments, or the design of hearing aids especially for children. The process of 3D laser vibration is not new in itself. But the availability of it commercially in the UK is.

Its director, Professor Sarah Hainsworth, said: "One of the things that SMEs sometimes struggle with in terms of engaging with new technology is they don't have enough in-house expertise, and one of the things that we've embedded within the centre is the ability for companies to work with our specialists from industrial backgrounds who can provide not just the measurement capability but also help them interpret the results and understand how they might be used in their processes."

Another example of how companies can work with universities in the midlands is through the new Energy Research Accelerator, a centre of excellence for energy research established through Midlands Innovation which includes the six research-intensive midlands universities (Aston, Birmingham, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham and Warwick) in collaboration with the British Geological Survey.

This project builds on Midlands industrial expertise and will form a major pillar in the ‘midlands engine’ research ecosystem. The initial phase has attracted £60m of government funding and funds for a second phase are being discussed.

This autumn's Business Festival was created by Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership whose Director, Corin Crane, said universities in general were yet to capitalise sufficiently on the products of their innovation. Businesses often found them quite difficult to engage with, even though the benefits of doing so were enormous.

In that context Leicester was doing really well, he said, most obviously in its specialist areas - around medicine and in high-end engineering, for instance in the "globally important" work being done at the Horiba MIRA automotive test track.

The cutting edge nature of the university's expertise could enable small companies especially to diversify their product ranges, which was something they constantly needed to do but often were not good at.

"Particularly in manufacturing, it is really easy to get behind on new technologies when the world is moving so quickly. You have made a bit of money, you have a factory developed to make one thing, and actually quite quickly competition overtakes you," Mr Crane said.

The idea of using research excellence to support new and growing businesses underpins the LLEP's recent bid for a science and hi-tech manufacturing themed enterprise zone.

A major part of the bid is the University of Leicester's plan to build a National Space Park on the Riverside Centre site in Leicester - some 100 acres of disused former industrial land that the city council intends to redevelop. It would sit next to the existing National Space Centre which was co-founded by the University.

University of Leicester's President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Boyle, said he hoped it would be a major stimulant to economic growth in the city.

"We are designing a building that will embed businesses within it; rather than designing a traditional science park where businesses sit alongside university buildings, we aim to integrate businesses physically and to engage them more proactively in our research and teaching. We believe in partnership and businesses will benefit from access to our state-of-the-art researchers and equipment, as well as helping us shape our research agendas and teaching programmes." he said.

"Already our Space Research Centre has started to turn its arm to non-space spin-outs, particularly in medicine where the micro design skills from building satellites and spacecraft is beginning to improve the design of medical instruments.”

It epitomises his view that the University has to be more entrepreneurial.

"This is a bold move which will be to the benefit of the university, because we will end up with some fantastic state-of-the-art facilities which I think our staff and students will really value. But also it will be to the great benefit of the city and our local community. It is vital that Leicester attracts and retains more highly-skilled young adults and we will do everything we can to encourage this" he said.

"A critical reason why IBM has just arrived is to work closely with the university around computer science but also physics and maths and other disciplines where we generate students," Professor Boyle added.

"They can see there's a real opportunity here, and of course the city will be working hard to encourage other computer firms to follow IBM."




The University of Leicester is prominently represented at the Festival, including:

  • Big Data is the Future, 27th October:  An Innovation Showcase of expertise and techniques available to companies to glean new insights and business opportunities from complex large data sets using data analytics methodologies 
  • Participation in Culture and the Creative Industries, 27th October:  A presentation and networking event
  • Advanced Materials Showcase and Open Morning, 29th October:  A chance for companies to meet key experts, identify relevant facilities and technologies to optimise manufacturing processes, introduce novel innovative materials and recycling solutions such as the development of the biodegradable MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard) and advanced coatings using ionic liquids. 
  • Defending Your Organisation Against the Commercial Dark Arts, 2nd November: An interactive self-defence class that could help protect you and your organisation from the effects of fraud and corruption
  • Federation of Small Businesses and University of Leicester on winning public contracts, 5th November: Procurement experts will offer a half day workshop on finding, competing and winning public contracts
  • Digital Conference & Expo 2015, 5th November: incorporating the Superfast Leicestershire Conference by the Chamber of Commerce where the University will exhibiting some of its digital capabilities

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