A programme led by the city’s two universities and the SCR Growth Hub which supports regional companies to innovate has helped SMEs to transform their business model to meet changing customer needs during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund, the Sheffield Innovation Programme was set up in 2016 to support small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) from across the region in accessing free academic expertise, facilities and resources at both the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University to stimulate innovation and deliver new products and services.
Since 2016, the programme has seen 200 academics work with more than 300 companies across the region and this has continued during the Covid-19 pandemic through webinars and remote projects including helping many small businesses to quickly adapt and diversify to meet changing customer needs following a loss of business due to their stockists being closed.
During the lockdown, academics working on the programme ran 22 webinars covering areas including leadership, digital wellbeing while working from home, postal packaging and immersive technologies offering advice and expertise to more than 40 regional SMEs.
Academics from Sheffield Hallam University provided bespoke support to businesses including Cafeology and We Luv Brownies to help them move online, delivering directly to customers after their clients, which were mostly outlets in the hospitality industry, closed.
They worked with the businesses to design new packaging to allow products to be delivered direct to the consumer. The new designs were turned around within two weeks to prevent further loss of income for the businesses.
Sheffield Hallam’s Design Futures team worked on both these projects.
Creative Director at Design Futures, John Kirkby, said: “The key to this project was to move as swiftly as possible to find a solution. As soon as lock down hit consumers were looking for online solutions and We Luv Brownies didn’t have packaging that would support online sales. Our team managed to present a viable solution to the client within two weeks which was remarkable during such challenging circumstances.”
The University of Sheffield has been working with Carbon Clean, a UK based company with research and development (R&D) facilities in the Sheffield City region, to examine ways to change carbon dioxide (CO2) into organic products to reduce harmful emissions.
Carbon Clean have developed a low-cost technology to separate CO2 from industrial flue gases, natural and renewable gases. The technology is in operation at over 38 facilities globally and to date has captured 848,000 metric tonnes of CO2 since 2009. That’s the equivalent of taking more than 183,000 cars off the road.
The University of Sheffield (TUOS) Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering own the UK’s largest Fischer Tropsch (FT) reactor, a technology used for converting inorganic gases into organic products. They have necessary expertise in the technology which can be used to convert CO2 into useful products such as fuels and other commodity organic chemicals which would otherwise be produced from fossil-based sources.
Academics from the University’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering have worked with the company, evaluating ways of combining their joint technologies to convert inorganic gases into organic products that could be used to decarbonise a number of industrial and commercial supply chains.
James Hall, R&D Manager at Carbon Clean, said: “The Sheffield Innovation Programme has allowed us to develop new ideas and research themes with academics from the University of Sheffield that we may not have otherwise pursued.
“Access to academics’ time and the facilities of the university gives us an opportunity to broaden our R&D pipeline and further develop our knowledge base. We intend to build upon the work carried out and the relationship developed, thanks to the SIP and seek further funding for larger projects in the near future.”
Working alongside Sheffield City Region Growth Hub and their two dedicated Innovation Advisors, as well as other key partners, Sheffield Innovation Programme provides research and innovation advice and support to regional businesses whilst stimulating economic growth. The programme is currently funded to run until 2022.