WMG: Empowering SMEs with Cutting Edge Science and Capacity Building
The University of Warwick is consistently ranked in the top 10 UK universities for highly recognized teaching and research. Attaining as much quality and prestige, WMG, formerly known as the Warwick Manufacturing Group, has grown into one of the largest departments of the university, as a world-leading institute of 500 researcher staff and an £180m annual programme. WGM aims to help reinvigorate UK manufacturing by ‘bringing academic rigour to industrial and organisational practice’ through value added innovation. To achieve this, the department works with companies in many sectors, i.e. automotive, aerospace and defence, digital; security, energy and utilities, food and drink, government, healthcare and pharmaceutical, that include corporates such as Jaguar, Land Rover, TATA, TVS, BAE Systems, AstraZeneca, Siemens, GlaxoSmithKline, Airbus, and over 4,000 SMEs.
SME Team as facilitators of UBC
WMG incorporates a dedicated 20 people to form the SME multidisciplinary team to support manufacturing SMEs. Many of the research staff possess industry backgrounds, coupled with extensive experience of technology applied R&D, which allows them to relate with both SMEs and academics. The team can also tap into the extensive academic resources of the University of Warwick. The wide range of programmes implemented by the team to support SMEs fall into three main areas: awareness, research and education.
The WMG SME Team carry out activities to help raise awareness of SMEs that involve regular demonstrations and workshops delivered at their buildings using innovative technology and equipment. This increases SMEs awareness of the latest developments and helps introduce them to new technology and thinking. The team also organises collaboration-focused events to give SMEs the opportunity to develop new contacts, and create business opportunities while attending events from other organisations.
Beyond awareness-raising activities, WMG supports business at different stages of their R&D process. This can be done supporting SMEs with collaborative funding applications from national and international organisations. WMG also undertakes collaborative R&D with SMEs. The support of the WGM team ranges from initial specification and design to feasibility testing, R&D and validation testing from concept and laboratory to industrial scale. Additionally, SMEs can be allowed to access WMG’s state-of-the-art facilities.
As the third stream of collaborative activity, WMG engages with SMEs through education in three different ways. SME employees can take part in some educational programmes to update and improve their skills, such as the Professional Executive programmes or part-time degrees. Moreover, SMEs can contribute to education providing input into the students curriculum. Finally, SMEs can access graduate level skills from the student community through internship programmes.
WGM’s unique ingredients for success
The success of the WMG SME programmes is based on a large number of factors, most important of which are considered to be the resources invested by the University Warwick and WGM in the form of facilities and expertise to keep WMG at the forefront of innovation in its research, education and knowledge transfer activities.
The role of the WMG SME Team is prominent in the success and impact of the activities, with their expertise in forming collaborations and in-depth understanding of the SME context. Their expertise allows them to provide simple and timely support to SMEs, recognising their particular needs, along with lack of time, finances and personnel. Accordingly, they adapt their educational and training programmes to SME needs in terms of time, content and structure. More, the team has established mechanisms to select students with the right skills and match them with companies for internships. They form the links between the students and businesses not only via internships, but also by involving SMEs in the joint curriculum development for University of Warwick students.
The team does not try to expand their interest beyond their capabilities, but rather, chooses to speacialise in a specific sector – manufacturing – with specific type of companies – SMEs that already have products in the markets and are trying to innovate – and specific type of projects – those that add value to SMEs. This approach undoubteldly leads them gain better expertise with what they do. Good selection of SMEs not only fulfils the requirements of size or sector but also helps WMG team work along with an open culture, and an interest to invest significant efforts.
In all these cooperation arrangements, support provided by the University of Warwick leadership is extensive, with regards to access to the university-wide high-quality research and facilities, proving being an excellent research university and collaborating with industry is not mutually exclusive. The impact of the WGM activities also confirms the department is on the right track, given that the WMG SME team has successfully supported over 1400 SMEs, created 190 jobs, safeguarded 330 jobs, developed 270 new products and processes and created 20 new business, in the context of an SME collaboration network of over 500 members over the last 10 years. WMG has become a trusted partner for regional SMEs, operating as an extension to their R&D department, which has added value for £55m (€65m) to the West Midlands economy.
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Meet the authors
Dr. Victoria Galán-Muros is an active professional with a broad international expertise in university-business cooperation, higher education management and innovation from different perspectives. As a senior consultant, currently associated at Technopolis Group UK, has worked with universities and governments in 14 countries along with the European Commission. She is the scientific and policy manager of the two largest studies of university-business cooperation in Europe, for the European Commission (DG Education and Culture). Victoria has delivered professional workshops in 15 countries, co-authored 18 public reports and participated in 12 government funded projects.