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Business Networking & Events

Innovation for a better business – working with universities

30th January, 2019   9:30am to 1:00pm

The Visualisation Centre, Telford

EU ERDF flag logo

AGRI ERDF Project logo






Many small business owners facing business growth challenges overlook one of the most useful resources on their doorstep – their local universities. Far from being the home to academics secluded in ivory towers, the modern university is geared up to supporting innovation in industry and commerce and often has specific funding to enable that to happen.

In this workshop we will explore some of the ways in which universities can support small businesses to innovate and the external grant funding that can enable that interaction; exploring opportunities in supply chain management, energy from waste, operational process development and R&D Tax Credits.

The workshop is specifically designed to support small businesses in the food and drink processing and agri-tech industry sectors. Along with a number of successful previous projects with businesses, we will be using the current ERDF funded AGRI project as an example of university business collaboration. We will draw on a number of case studies related to the agri-food sector, including with local companies, involving both new technology and innovative business practice that show how small businesses can successfully create growth through new products, services and process improvements.


Workshop Schedule:

9:00 – Registration and coffee


9:30 - The AGRI (Agritech Growth and Resources for Innovation) project and how to access funding to support company innovation

David Webb, Aston University

An introduction to the AGRI project, which draws on European Union ERDF funding to provide free support to companies in the Marches considering innovating in the agri-tech and food and drink processing sectors. Support can take the form of a short-term piece of consultancy or may involve longer term prototype construction or the development of a new management process for the company. We will also survey the other financial support mechanisms that small businesses can access to support their research and development. 


9:50 - Case study: Supply chain innovation for small businesses 

Marco Della-Gala, Aston University

Short Food Supply Chains (SFSCs) aim at shortening the physical and social distance between producers and consumers, improving farmers’ access to local and regional markets and consumers’ access to fresh local produce. They include farmers’ markets, box schemes, community supported agriculture, pick your own, food hubs, community buying groups, etc., and in each of them a variety of information and local lay knowledge are exchanged among producers and consumers. The presentation will provide an overview of SFSCs and will report some case studies on different initiatives in Italy and UK. The rational is to explore how the adoption of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has been fostering the development of new local food networks, reconnecting producers and consumers and redistributing the value within the food supply chain. 

10:20 Coffee networking 20 mins


10:40 - Case study: Energy from waste 

Tim Miller, Aston University

The European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI) at Aston University is able to help businesses exploit their waste material to produce useful energy and valuable new products. The expertise and services available cover, technology and feedstocks, supply chains and business models plus policy and incentives. A number of case studies will be included to show how businesses have benefited and developed as a result of the help provided.


11:10 - R&D tax credits: An overview of benefits for SMEs

Phil Arch, Business Solutions (Midlands) Ltd

The Research and Development Tax Credit scheme is an HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) incentive designed to encourage innovation by companies operating in the UK by allowing R&D costs to be offset by tax credits. The scheme seems to be significantly underused by companies in the UK, especially within the SME community. This talk will show how small businesses can use the tax credit scheme to reduce their innovation development costs.


11:40 - Case study: Making light work of operational challenges in the agritech/agrifood sectors

David Webb, Aston University 

Recent developments in the technology of harnessing light are behind major improvements to the capacity of the internet and are increasingly finding applications in sophisticated medical diagnosis. We shall see that a fortuitous consequence of these high-tech developments is that the technology is now available to be used in more down-to-earth small business applications; exploring food and drink processing and agri sector examples from beer tasting to pest control.


12:15 (Approx.) – 13:00: lunch and networking

13:00: Workshop finish.