The Innovation and Productivity Pathfinder project launched at the start of this year to support start-ups, SMEs and large businesses in Newcastle-under-Lyme and the wider Staffordshire County.
Part of the University’s Innovation Enterprise Zone, the programme offered 12-weeks of free, bespoke assistance from a student or graduate to identify innovative solutions for new products, services, and processes. Businesses were also assigned a dedicated expert Innovation Advisor.
The partnerships have helped a range of businesses across engineering, charity, software, production, media, IT, transport and digital sectors. Outcomes include developing new products from furniture to mobile apps, creating marketing plans and introducing cost-saving processes.
Stone Group, a leading provider of ICT solutions, is one of the businesses which benefited from the project. The company worked with business students Briana Turcan and Shihan Warnakulasooriya to develop its intranet and improve employee communications.
Jack Woolman, Director of Sales and Operations & BI, explained: “It was a pleasure to work alongside Briana and Shihan, who both offered valuable insights throughout the project and shared our passion to improve this system for all users. This project will impact all employees to ensure they are getting full use out of the intranet as well as utilising new and innovative features.
“The Pathfinder project has proven to be an invaluable resource by utilising driven and focussed students with a passion for business innovation. Furthermore, providing the future workforce with project planning experience in a business environment will play a huge factor in their future success.”
A special event celebrated the culmination of this year’s Pathfinder partnerships and Briana and Shihan received an award for the ‘Best Innovation Plan’ in recognition of their work with Stone Group. Briana said: “The experience you gain from working within a business environment and understanding how everything works is huge.
“You develop skills such as communication by communicating with different people across the business from directors to managers and other employees, presentation through having to do a big presentation in front of the company at the end, time management from managing my days and meetings so that they don’t interfere with my uni studies… It was also a bonus earning money whilst learning all of this and it just looks very good on your CV.
“Winning the Best Innovation Plan award was such a great feeling. Being recognised and rewarded for all the hard work you’ve put towards the project, not only by the uni but by the employer too, it’s a sense of fulfilment. I would 100% recommend, no doubt!”
For recent graduates, the programme has also provided a launchpad for their careers. In his final year studying BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering, Abdur Rahman Shaik worked with Newcastle-under-Lyme-based sheet metal engineering and fabrication company KMF Group.
Abdur used his engineering background to support KMF as an IT Analyst to help develop a system to monitor breakdowns, identify common root causes and put a value on the downtime cost. Since completing his internship Abdur has secured a role as a Prototyping and Innovation Consultant at Custom Fabrications Ltd.
Abdur explained: “They needed me to help understand how the breakdowns are affecting them and how they can calculate the financial losses. Being placed at KMF gave me experience of how I could use my lean manufacturing tools which I learned during my university time.”
He added: “I’d definitely recommend schemes like this to anyone looking for job experience as it helps to increase your skill set and you get to expand your network as well.”
Marek Hornak, Executive Director of Business Engagement at Staffordshire University, commented: “We are extremely proud that the Innovation and Productivity Pathfinder has made an impact across so many sectors in our region. The support received will lead to business growth, improved products and services, more efficient processes, and will create more jobs for the local area.
“It has also provided students and graduates involved with hands-on experience solving real-world problems, equipping them with vital skills for future roles and it is exciting to see that some are already reaping the benefits.”
To find out how Staffordshire University can support your business visit https://www.staffs.ac.uk/business-services
*The Innovation and Productivity Pathfinder project has been fully funded by the UK Community Renewal Fund. The UK Community Renewal Fund is a UK Government programme for 2021/22. This aims to support people and communities most in need across the UK to pilot programmes and new approaches to prepare for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. It invests in skills, community and place, local business, and supporting people in employment.