When you’re focusing on the important day-to-day job of keeping a business running, it can be hard to find the time, and money, to concentrate on growth, or to solve nagging issues which are holding you back.But you needn’t do it alone. Across the UK there are vast resources full of expertise waiting to help you, and often they’re on your doorstep. A recent push in national policy which encourages closer relationships between business and education means that universities and business schools are increasingly opening their doors to businesses, making it easier to access a whole range of funding, schemes and projects to support growth. University support doesn’t begin and end with attending courses, workshops and conferences, there are a number of ways you and your business can benefit. 1) Expertise Although they can seem like daunting institutions to navigate, universities and business schools contain a wealth of expertise, and most will have a dedicated team to help you access this. Many academics have industry experience and collaborating with them on practical, real-world research can be mutually beneficial; professional researchers can help to influence the direction of your company, develop new or existing products, target potential clients, and shape policies. 2) Funding Working with a university does not necessary mean cost. Funding schemes – both from the UK government and from the EU – aimed specifically as SME growth mean that support is often heavily subsidised, or even free. If funding isn’t available directly from the university, specialist teams can provide expert advice and support to help link your ideas to a funding opportunity, assist with proposals and overcome the red tape when applying to various bodies. 3) New talent Universities are a huge source of new talent in the shape of students and recent graduates. Hosting a student placement allows companies to grow a pool of talent while developing an individual’s skills and accessing their skills at an earlier stage than usual. Some universities will also help you to recruit high calibre graduates that fit with your company needs. 4) Resources Universities don’t just offer intellectual resource, they have specialist technical facilities which can help to put your business ahead of the game. From labs to workshops, specialist centres used by research groups and for teaching often come with industry standard equipment which you can access without high cost. 5) Networking There are lots of opportunities to get involved with the life of the university. The majority of courses at universities have links to professional practice and academic staff are often interested in inviting business people on to course advisory teams, give guest lectures and to set interesting projects. Similarly, through university web pages and e-zines you should be able to find regular events, lectures and workshops that are open to people from outside the university, which provide other excellent opportunities to be involved, network with other businesses, learn from leading-edge thinking and get to know people within your local university. Alison Smith is head of executive education and corporate relations at Nottingham Business School.
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