18th May 2016

De Montfort University (DMU) recognises small businesses are an engine for economic prosperity and growth, as well as being a source of innovative fresh ideas and practices. Our strategy is to help SMEs succeed by offering support, mentoring and talent from our academics, graduates and current students to help businesses move to the next level.

We were delighted that DMU was awarded a Small Business Charter award last year in recognition of the positive impact its work has had among the business community in Leicestershire and further afield.

Our relationship with the business community can be traced back as far as the 1897, when DMU’s predecessor the Leicester Technical School began training apprentices for local industries in engineering, manufacturing and printing. A commitment to ensuring teaching kept pace with the changing needs of businesses meant that computing courses were introduced in the 1960s.

Today, DMU is recognized for its support for start-ups – particularly in the creative industries - and the contribution which its business expertise makes to economic growth locally, nationally and internationally.

Here we share five of our most successful approaches to working in partnership with businesses. We would like to hear what has worked for you – please get in touch

Space to share ideas

The university’s Innovation Centre is the hub of DMU’s start-up support. It offers incubation space and business coaching to new start-ups, advice sessions for student entrepreneurs, networking events and a co-working space where starts-up cross-fertilise ideas, engage in networking, creative sessions and more.

In 2014/15, 80 small businesses offered services at the Innovation Centre, either as one of its 24 leaseholders or working with companies based there. The impact the centre has on entrepreneurial orientation and growth aspiration of small business owners in the city has been significant. For example, one of the Centre’s user, Pritesh Vegad, the owner of Diamond Boutique jewellers, said: “The Innovation Centre has provided our business with a fantastic platform to grow. We have been able to access useful training courses, graduates for short and long term projects, as well as a lively and motivating environment to work in”. He continued by saying:

“The staff at The Innovation Centre are fantastic, always looking for ways to help. The Centre is great for small businesses and has played a significant role in taking our business to the next stage of growth.”

Working in partnership to retain our talented graduates

Our students are a fantastic pool of talent that help rejuvenate the local and national economy. In particular graduate retention is an aim for many cities hoping to upskill their workforce, and Leicester is no exception. In fact, the East Midlands has one of the lowest retention rates in the UK. To address this challenge DMU works in partnership with Leicester City Council and Leicestershire businesses to help retain graduates in the city. Through the innovative DMU Graduate Champions programme, the University offers graduates the chance of a paid, six-week internship with companies looking for staff. DMU pays the Living Wage, the graduate gets CV-boosting experience and companies get a talented member of staff for short-term projects.
Graphic Designer Jiteche Quessou landed a full-time job with Premier League champions Leicester City after completing an internship. He said:

“Experience counts for so much now in the workplace and I think it is brilliant that DMU offers opportunities like this even after you have graduated. I want to say “thanks so much” to DMU.”

Sir Peter Soulsby, Leicester’s elected mayor, is working with DMU to provide new opportunities for graduates, including start-up incubation spaces, to encourage them to stay in Leicester. Latest available figures show that in 2013/14, 38 per cent of DMU graduates were working in Leicestershire – more than twice that of the University of Leicester.
Many graduates have gone on to land jobs with SMEs as a result of their internship. Working locally helps to retain top talent and this makes an enormous contribution to local economy.
Tailored small business support.

DMU has strong links with small businesses which help creation and transfer of knowledge. Working with partners such as local authorities, Local Enterprise partnership (LEP), Chamber of Commerce and Leicester City Enterprise Consortium, DMU engages in knowledge exchange programmes (KTP) and provides space for entrepreneurial activities.

DMU is a leader in knowledge exchange, having run more than 100 programmes which allow our academics to share their business and technical expertise with companies to solve problems or develop new assets. Different types of business support are available for starts-up, small businesses and growth oriented firms in the region.

Its work ranges from multi-million-pound international companies such as Airbus, where we are helping to develop critical infrastructure to protect national networks against cyber attacks, to local housing associations looking to use low-energy technologies in social housing.

Bespoke training and development

The Business & Law Faculty at the university runs 15 different masterclasses in topics such as conflict management, financial modelling and the use of social media for business to help managers develop their skills and progress their careers.

Similarly the Faculty of Technology offers courses on forensic computing, agile project management with Scrum, Java programming and agile business analysis.

Working with funders, Leicester City Council and a group of consultants and researchers at DMU’s Department of Strategic Management and Marketing helped in design and delivery of tailored business support for over 220 SMEs in Leicester and Leicestershire to encourage and enable SMEs to engage in the public sector market. SMEs found themed workshops, which focused on writing competitive bids, understanding public procurement processes, identifying public procurement opportunities, and developing organisational policies required for helpful and enabling engagement.

Enhancing learning and knowledge transfer through business placements and employer engagement

Every year DMU places its students with employers to provide fresh talent and enhance graduate employability by increasing competitive advantage, improving business knowledge and building networks.

In 2015/16, 357 businesses of which 202 were SMEs benefited from the university’s business placement programme which offers undergraduate students the chance to spend a year working in industry as part of their degree. Many students have even landed full-time jobs with SMEs and larger businesses after putting in an exceptional performance during their placement. Oliver Churchill, a business placement student, who is currently working in Leicester, said:

“Doing a placement has been massively beneficial; it has allowed me to apply the knowledge that I have gained at university and apply it in the real world. Since starting at Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Leicester, I have been given plenty of opportunity to develop and I look forward to returning after university in an assistant manager role”

DMU also brings in business expertise through its mentoring project, which matches students with a mentor who can share real-world expertise and knowledge, helping prepare the student for graduate roles and offering networking opportunities. The Fox’s Lair recruits real-life entrepreneurs from around the country to come to the university and hear “pitches” from first-year business students. It is the only credit-bearing module of its kind at any UK university. Of the companies engaged in the Mentoring Project in 2014/15, around half were SMEs, mostly led by alumni.

Its BusinessWorks programme pairs students with local companies looking for help with marketing, business consultancy or promotions. Students have worked with estate agencies, social CSR projects, restaurants and charities to boost businesses and their profiles in the region. Businesses also benefit from career development opportunities for staff, develop awareness of graduate talent and building a relationship with the university.