Professor Alastair Irons, Academic Dean for Faculty of Technology at the University of Sunderland.

Legacy fund helps region’s SMEs tap into university talent & technology for ground-breaking projects

The University of Sunderland has landed £55,000 worth of investment to support five regional SMEs in the development of their innovative projects.

Drawing on the University’s academic expertise, cutting-edge technology, graduate internship scheme and research-based experience, each business will work collaboratively over the next five months to development their products and technologies.

The projects include using augmented reality software to identify the provenance of our food, a computerised behaviour change prototype to benefit health and wellbeing, to tracking and analysing people and traffic movements in the built environment using cameras and machine learning software.

The funding has been provided through the GX programme, a two-year business innovation programme part of the legacy from last year’s Great Exhibition of the North. It is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and delivered by NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI), in partnership with the Innovation SuperNetwork. One of the key strands is Collaborate - a research and development scheme, brokering research partnerships worth up to £11,000 each between SMEs and research institutions, so they can work together on innovative projects.

University of Sunderland staff and researchers from Computer Science, Advanced Manufacturing, Psychology, Business and Games Software Development will collaborate with Almere Ltd, Nosebleed Interactive Ltd, Schoolhere Ltd, Medintu and Tender Connect, SMEs who successfully bid for GX funding.

Sunderland graduates are also benefitting, after a number of short-term internships became available through the University’s in-house recruitment agency Uni4Talent. The project provides them with an opportunity to develop their skills and raise their employment prospects.

“We’re delighted to be a deliverer on the framework of GX Collaborate, achieving almost a third of the funding available after demonstrating our drive in innovation and proven track record of working with SMEs,” explains Professor Alastair Irons, Academic Dean for Faculty of Technology at the University of Sunderland.

“These types of projects show how responsive we are: able to translate and address business problems and deliver the best solutions in a short timeframe. It demonstrates how Enterprise and Innovation at the University works.

“Our job is to understand companies’ problems then propose bespoke solutions based on our University’s capabilities. We are able to do that, as we have a good grasp of what our academic expertise is and how it’s relevant to individual organisations.”

Alastair added: “Not only will these collaborations deliver innovation that will benefit the way we live and work, they also develop the skills and experience of our own university staff and students through shared knowledge, which feeds back into our own curriculum.”

GX Collaborate was developed to engage North East LEP SMEs and scale-ups to unlock their innovation capacity, propensity to collaborate and ability to develop new products.

Carol Bell, formerly, Executive Director of the Great Exhibition of the North, said: “Innovation is key to the success of any business, and ‘GX Collaborate’ aims to help SMEs to access the best academic expertise, leading edge research and technology to address specific business problems through innovation, and ultimately to accelerate the growth of their businesses.”

One of those SME’s that has been successful in securing funding is Medintu, a Sunderland-based digital healthcare organisation that is working in partnership with the University of Sunderland. 

Medintu CEO, Reddy SV, said: “As a small organisation, we knew we wanted to access academic expertise, but we had no idea where to start. Through the Collaborate scheme, NGI was able to understand our strengths and needs, and match us to the right university, bringing the right people around the table.

“Our project is complex and requires a multidisciplinary approach, and NGI’s support has helped us to shape our partnership project with clear and deliverable objectives and timelines. We’re looking forward to collaborating with the Sunderland team.”