College's Ideas Lab aims to help businesses think ahead and move forward
SOUTH Devon College is sharing its big ideas with local businesses.
And the hope is the Ideas Lab in its new University Centre will not only create new jobs for the firms involved, but for some of the college's graduates.
INNOVATION: South Devon College's Derek Gribble
An open day at the college will showcase the South West Innovation Accelerator Project on May 10. By sharing expertise, with the help of staff as specialist mentors as well as graduates, it is hoped the benefits will be mutual for college and businesses.
The Innovation Accelerator Project was launched 18 months ago and followed on the Pathfinder Project which was also a collaboration between several different colleges in the South West.
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Project co-ordinator at the college Derek Gribble said it was a new way for the college to help boost local businesses.
"First and foremost we are working with businesses who want to move forward. It's a service which is outside of the day-to-day running of their business.
"It's not about the college telling the company how to do its business but forging relationships where we can support that business because we understand fully what it does and what its aims are.
"We look at what a business is doing, where it wants to go, how it is going to get there and how it is going to know when it has arrived.
"It's not offering training for staff but talking to the owner, managing director or chief executive and getting a holistic view of the business and offering them the support of our business innovation mentors.
"We are taking the specialism of the mentor into the business to help it in a specific area. It might be being innovative with a product, but it could be a new business strategy, changes to human resources or marketing, it's about sharing our expertise.
"If we come across a business where we don't have that expertise, because we are working in collaboration with other colleges, hopefully we can seek the support from somewhere else – for example in the product design field.
"A lot of people who start businesses don't have the expertise. Sometimes it can take someone from outside to see that a business's structure is totally wrong and that it could operate more efficiently.
"Most businesses we deal with do not have a written business plan. Most bosses would say it is in their head, but the problem of that is there are no terms of reference that they can go back to and are written down."
The £750,000 South West Innovation Accelerator Project (Competitiveness) project has been running since September 2009 and was funded through the South West RDA and European funding. The businesses have to be small to medium enterprises up to 249 staff. Retail is not included. South Devon College is the lead partner in the project and so far the college has helped 85 businesses. The most intensive help is currently being given to a dozen firms in Torbay and Teignbridge area. The business people and the mentors can meet in the Ideas Lab.
Derek Gribble said: "Most employ five to 20 employees, and it runs across the range of firms including a paintballing company, a doctors' surgery, restaurants and a bakery. We want to help everyday businesses and encourage them to be more innovative in what they are doing and thinking ahead. It's project managing a business.
"Some learn very quickly, some are moving so fast we have had to advise them to slow down and make sure they have the structures to support the growth of the business or they will wear themselves out."
The difference the scheme makes to the company is measured over a two-year period and the project runs until 2013.
Mr Gribble said: "The mentors are very enthusiastic, they see this as a chance to add value back into the college. It's also about putting back what is learnt into the curriculum at the college.
"We are also creating student projects to support the innovation taking place in the business, the undergraduates are using their skills in the company. Potentially this could create jobs for those undergraduates."
For businesses interested in talking about the scheme, Graduate Advantage or Graduate Internships, the Ideas Lab in the University Centre will be open on May 10, the college's main open day, from 5pm to 8pm and specialists will be on hand to discuss projects in further detail.