Innovation and Entrepreneurship Support of the Year Award

SME Productivity & Innovation Centre

Finalist of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Support of the Year Award

"Driving performance, growth and innovation in established SMEs"

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The SME Productivity & Innovation Centre (SME PIC) is Edge Hill University’s new strategic gateway for scale-up potential Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SME) to access knowledge, skills, and resources for product, service and/or business model innovation and workforce development. The Innovation Sprint (IS) is the primary entry point for SMEs. IS, is an intensive, 1-2-1, digitally facilitated programme which embeds transformative practices within the SMEs whilst also engendering a growth mind-set within its leadership team.

IS has a pioneering practice-led approach to business model strategy development. The unique features include:
• Embedding of academic and professional services expertise in the model
• Direct engagement methods to identify and attract ‘hard-to-reach’ SMEs, with typically lower levels of productivity literacy
• Methodology developed to identify the characteristics of ‘high growth potential’ SMEs
• Novel approaches to the application of design-led visual thinking for business model innovation and strategy development
• Unique MI (Management Information) data analysis and visual thinking tools

The SME PIC has had an outstanding economic impact on the region and on the SMEs who have participated. SMEs demonstrate on average: 29% growth and a minimum of 2 new jobs created. The SME PIC has enriched the student experience since its establishment, supporting: a 22% increase in highly skilled employment opportunities; a 38% increase in curriculum enrichment projects. SMEs have access to additional support programmes that provide further opportunities to help SMEs deliver their growth strategy. The benefits and impact of the comprehensive range of support extends to students, research & knowledge exchange, the university, and the economy.

Key People

Prof. Simon Bolton
Associate Dean and Director (Enterprise and Employability)
SME Productivity & Innovation Centre,  Edge Hill University

Prof. George Talbot
Pro Vice- Chancellor (Research) and Dean of Faculty
Faculty of Arts & Sciences,  Edge Hill University

Michael Banford
Associate Director
SME Productivity & Innovation Centre,  Edge Hill University

Steve McArdle Kathryn
Business Development Manager
SME Productivity & Innovation Centre,  Edge Hill University Edge Hill

Kathryn Connell-Welsh
Marketing Coordinator
SME Productivity & Innovation Centre,  Edge Hill University


The SME Productivity & Innovation Centre is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.
Acknowledgements to:
• UK Government - Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Innovate UK.
• Regional Business Growth Hubs: Lancashire Enterprise Partnership and Boost – Lancashire’s Business Growth Hub, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and Liverpool Growth Platform.

The team at the SME Productivity and Innovation Centre.


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Integrated Support - External website screenshots

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1-2-1 digital facilitation of the Innovation Sprint Programme


Impacting lifes

One of the most ambitious SMEs to complete IS, is Home Instead, a senior personal care franchise. After a significant injection of personal financial investment by the owners to improve the business, they needed to ensure that the business worked. Home Instead joined the Innovation Sprint programme to address critical financial challenges and low levels of productivity that the business was facing. The team offer home care services, specialist dementia care, personal care and rapid response service. Despite a strong focus on quality, and clinching a top industry award, the company was in danger of closure.

The Home Instead team found exploring their MI data and using the visual thinking tools intensive, but soon realised that the practice-led approach would be the key to their new business model strategy development that would secure the future of the business. The team completed the programme with a clear understanding of their customers’ needs, and a clear financially feasible strategy to scale-up the business. Since completing the programme Home Instead have had an Increase in Revenue of 30%; 18% increase in new clients; Adopted new mobile technology and assistive technology; created 4 new jobs; and opened a new additional office.

“We spent valuable time analysing our business data, goals, current products and services, facing our critical challenges, exploring opportunities and benchmarking our sector. We successfully managed to define what our business model should look like. Eighteen months later we continue to see our revenues increase in line with our ambitious growth projections.” Gail Dodson, Director.


Lessons learned

Since 2017, the SME Productivity & Innovation Centre has successfully engaged with hard-to-reach SMEs (Lancashire & Liverpool City Region) and delivered a systematic repeatable framework of business growth support.

Key learnings:

The adoption and implementation of a highly effective engagement strategy. Underpinned by a fully integrated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, the team have built a comprehensive profile of the target market and sectors in which the SMEs operate. Fully understanding and anticipating the business needs has allowed the SME PIC team to offer scale-up potential SMEs a value proposition that resonates with their pain-points and addresses their business challenges.

Direct engagement approach accelerated the desired conversion rates to ensure project targets reached. A cyclical number of SMEs contacted using precise messaging that focussed on clear identifiable need; using the CRM to build a cohesive campaign framework to provide the yield (8,000 SMEs contacted per year) of SMEs engaged onto Innovation Sprint.

A highly skilled team recruited and trained to reach, engage and deliver the business model strategy development programme. Embedding academic and professional services expertise provides a holistic, practice-led approach, proving a highly effective feature in the model.

Digital delivery of the support offered, has notably intensified an SME’s willingness to engage. Online, 1-2-1 delivery with no travel time makes participation in the 50hr intensive intervention for senior management teams highly accessible. The new digital platform introduced during Covid-19, allowed the team to deliver at scale, a differentiated offer, that was able to increase the number of SMEs supported per month from 4 to 10.


What's coming?

The new strategy (2022 onwards) for the SME Productivity & Innovation Centre at Edge Hill University is built upon the multiple learnings, research and outcomes from the range of growth initiatives offered to SMEs since 2017; all aligned to the specific needs of scale-up potential SMEs: innovation support; leadership development; and workforce development.

The new strategic framework will deliver a range of existing and new programmes that will enhance support and provide further opportunities for the triangulation of i. SMEs – ii. Students – iii. Academics.

Beyond 2022, SME support will be offered beyond the existing geographic areas (Lancashire and the Liverpool City Region), widening access to an eco-system of support for SMEs across the North-West; through the Innovation Sprint programme; accredited Management and Leadership training; a new CPD Executive Growth Leadership programme; and workforce development through skills priorities, training and student placements. New Knowledge Transfer Partnership will also be sourced and formed.

Students will benefit from a wider-range of student placement and highly skilled employment opportunities, as the SME PIC engage and support new SMEs from across the region on their scaleup journey. New industry funded PhD studentships will be created and linked to core business research themes.

Academic researchers (3 new researcher posts established) will have access to multiple insights and quantifiable data to support several new research projects focussed on innovation/SME profiles and sectors/growth/impact and technology adoption. The findings will inform learning and benefit students, staff and strengthen the University’s research capabilities.



SMEs supported in last 12 months by a range of initiatives offered by SME Productivity & Innovation Centre


Average growth – SMEs completing the Innovation Sprint Programme


Number of jobs created – SMEs completing the Innovation Sprint Programme


SMEs agreed Innovation Sprint supported development of new products/services/process


Increase in highly skilled employment opportunities for students


New Knowledge Transfer Partnerships


New research posts established

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