Fund to boost collaboration between universities and small businesses

Published on 01/03/2019
Fund to boost collaboration between universities and small businesses Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, has today announced a £10m fund managed by Research England, part of UK Research and Innovation, to facilitate interactions between universities and small businesses.

Between £500,000 and £1.5m will be available for up to ten universities to develop and extend university incubators into University Enterprise Zones (UEZs). The aim of UEZs is to help strengthen links between research and expertise developed in universities, and align this with the needs of local businesses.

Aligning these will also give businesses greater access to a university’s expertise. It will also help universities better understand what businesses are looking for from graduates, informing research specialisms.

The minister made the announcement during a visit to the University of Nottingham. The university hosts one of the first incubators that came out of the Government’s University Enterprise Zones (UEZs) programme, launched in 2014.

UEZs represent the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy in action, which is helping to boost local economies by harnessing the UK’s world-leading innovation capabilities.
Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Chris Skidmore, said: “Our universities are among the best in the world, and when they join forces with our ambitious and innovative small businesses, they have the potential to meet the grand challenges of the future.

“Today’s investment to bring business and academics together will not only lead to the creation of new products and services, it will boost job creation for local areas to feel the benefits of UK innovation which demonstrates our modern Industrial Strategy in action.”

The Government announced it would invest £5m towards extending UEZs in the 2018 Autumn Budget. This investment will be augmented with up to £5m of Research England funding. The resulting £10m fund will enable businesses and universities to work together to increase local growth, promote collaboration between universities and businesses, support start-ups and scale-ups, and enhancing enterprise skills.

Research England’s Director of Knowledge Exchange, Alice Frost, said: “We are delighted to be able to offer further funding to drive forward the Government’s University Enterprise Zones goals. This will help further local university-business links to deliver economic growth.
“These are important aspects to Research England’s contributions to the Government’s place and commercialisation agendas, ensuring that the benefits of research and innovation are spread around the country.

“Evidence shows that universities are major contributors to the provision of incubators and accelerators in the UK, particularly in areas of lower productivity and technology development. This funding will build on these strengths to identify and spread best practices.”

The £10m fund will support development and innovation in business incubation by funding tailored customisation and refurbishments, specialist equipment for academic-business links, pump priming enterprise support in the incubator, or supporting new incubator planning.

The UK Government initiated the UEZ programme in 2014, with four UEZs in Bradford, Bristol, Liverpool and Nottingham funded in a first phase. These have helped strengthen university roles as strategic partners in local growth opportunities, and developed business incubation in locations that can benefit from innovation for local growth.

Universities can bid for funding through the Research England Development (RED) Fund, and will be expected to leverage further funds from local private and public sector interests.
UEZs will complement university-business engagement activities funded through Higher Education Innovation Funding, and encouraged by development of the Knowledge Exchange Framework.


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1. The announcement follows a successful £15m pilot scheme in which four UEZs were supported in Bradford, Bristol, Liverpool and Nottingham from 2014 to 2017.
2. UEZs will involve incubation and access to other support from the specialist facilities and expert knowledge offered by universities.
3. Universities can now bid to receive funding to support the advancement of the UEZ programme. Full details on how to do so are available on the Research England website at
4. Research England shapes healthy, dynamic research and knowledge exchange in English universities. It distributes over £2.2bn to universities in England every year; works to understand their strategies, capabilities and capacity; and supports and challenges universities to create new knowledge, strengthen the economy, and enrich society. Research England is part of UK Research and Innovation alongside the seven Research Councils and Innovate UK.

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