A University of Hull initiative which has helped businesses across the region boost their sales by over £30m has celebrated its third birthday.
The SparkFund, an innovative support and grants programme launched by the University in 2017, has so far helped create over 130 new jobs, bring 63 new products to the market, and helped firms cut a total of 200 tonnes of carbon emissions.
The programme was originally due to end in March 2020, but due to its enormous success, has been extended until the end of 2021.
Pauline Mitchell, Programme Manager at the SparkFund, said: “The SparkFund has over the last three years provided businesses across the region with the support and expertise needed to scale-up, expand and thrive.
“Since we launched in May 2017 we have had a great response to the programme. We have helped over 160 SMEs to apply for funding, and are working with hundreds more to support them in the same way.
“We have a direct and measurable impact at individual level with the SMEs we support – the team at SparkFund knows that one size doesn’t fit all and they don’t try to make it work that way.
“The SparkFund Team supports SMEs every step of the way, helping them to shape and frame ideas, apply for the funding and deliver the project.”
The SparkFund was first launched after the University of Hull secured £8.4m of funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Over the last three years, it has provided businesses across the Yorkshire and Humber region with over 2,000 hours of support, has helped firms increase productivity by a combined £9.2m, and provided 154 grants.
One business which has benefited from the SparkFund is Yorkshire-based gin and whisky maker, Cooper King Distillery.
Founded by Chris Jaume and Abbie Neilson in 2016, Cooper King received support in its early years from the SparkFund.
Funding provided by the University helped the distillery buy a second vacuum gin still – a move which enabled the company to develop new products without having to halt production of its current range.
Mr Jaume said: “Bringing a second vacuum still into operation has allowed us to considerably expand our research and development capability, without impacting production of our core range of products.”
Three different funding streams are available through the SparkFund.
SMEs can apply for innovation vouchers, to help transform ideas into real products and services, and research & development grants – allowing businesses to develop new products or upgrade existing ones.
Businesses can also benefit from the SparkFund through low-carbon R&D grants, helping firms reduce their carbon footprint and bring new ‘green’ products to the market.
Harvey Detmar, from Cottingham-based healthcare innovator RD Biomed, said: “The grants received through the SparkFund enabled us to perform in-depth research and development we would otherwise not have been able to do, and accelerated the development of new products at a critical stage for our business.
“Throughout the work programme, the team at the SparkFund provided constructive and proactive support and demonstrated a clear understanding of the business requirements that made the whole process run like clockwork.”
The SparkFund has helped businesses save £1.2m in operating costs since its inception in 2017.
The project was originally intended to end in March 2020, but due to its success and reputation, has been awarded additional funding and time to enable the team to deepen its impact and reach.
SparkFund is currently due to complete its delivery in December 2021.
For more information on the University of Hull’s SparkFund, visit https://www.spark-fund.co.uk/
[Phil Winter – University of Hull]