Securing the funding necessary to pursue new opportunities is not always a simple matter, but the Productivity HUBs run from the University of Lincoln offers local businesses a chance to earn a grant of up to £10,000. We had a chance to sit down with Rebecca Webster from the University of Lincoln to find out more.

What is the Productivity HUBs programme and what does it do?

It’s part of the University of Lincoln’s Productivity HUBs Programme and is funded by the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund). It’s designed to help and support businesses in Greater Lincolnshire – especially those based in or near Boston, Grimsby and Scunthorpe.

There’s 2 parts to the programme. Firstly, we have an Accelerator programme which is for businesses in Manufacturing, Advanced Engineering and Logistics. It’s aimed at people with growth ambitions but who need help to get going and it’s all free of charge. The people accepted onto the Accelerator have access to a range of interactive business masterclasses, all delivered by our team of consultants. At the end of the programme, there’s an opportunity to pitch for a grant of up to £10,000.

The grant is designed to help pay for some of the costs associated with business acceleration, for instance, new equipment that allows scalability or marketing support to drive sales.

The second thing we have is a programme of business advice. Again, this is for businesses in Greater Lincolnshire. Businesses that are eligible can get 12 hours of business support from a business advisor – all free of charge! During the sessions, the advisor can help to break down business challenges and will work with the business to develop an action plan, or to help with identifying new opportunities for the business.

Rebecca Webster, Productivity HUBs Programme
Rebecca Webster, Productivity HUBs Programme Manager

What kind of mentoring is offered by the Productivity HUBs programme and how time-consuming is it?

The accelerator programme takes place 2 mornings a week for 7 weeks. On some days the sessions are just an hour long, but other days, like when we’re covering business strategy, the sessions are 3 hours long. In addition to the 2 morning sessions, the businesses are also offered 1:1 sessions with a business advisor, where they can discuss specific business issues or ask for advice about their application for grant funding. Towards the end of the programme, the businesses submit a written application for the grant funding and are then invited to present a pitch for funding to a panel of judges.

It may seem like a big-time commitment, but every session has been carefully thought through, is delivered by an expert, and is designed to be highly interactive, practical, and valuable for those taking part. We take a maximum of 8 businesses in each accelerator to make sure that every business gets a very tailored experience.

The people that we’ve had on the programme so far have all been ridiculously busy, like all business owners, but they have all made the time because they want to take their businesses to the next level and have recognised that they need to invest the time to do this. Without fail, they’ve said that it’s been worth it. It’s a cliché, but many business owners are too busy working in the business to work on the business, and this makes it difficult for them to drive the business forwards. This accelerator prorgamme is a fantastic opportunity to take some time out and focus on developing the business in an extremely supportive environment.

I should mention that our 2021 accelerator programmes have been delivered online, so it’s been easy for the businesses to get stuck back into work as soon as the sessions are over. Our 5th January 22 and March 22 are also online programmes, after that, we’ll have to see.

How difficult is it for businesses on the programme to access funding?

Businesses that successfully complete the programme and who send in their application for grant funding by the deadline are invited to present their pitch for funding to our panel. Funding is not guaranteed. However, we work with the businesses to maximise their chances of success at the pitching event. A business may walk away with everything that they asked for; with part of what they asked for or with no funding.

Conditions may or may not be attached – for instance, if the money is to fund a marketing programme, we may ask to see a more detailed proposal first. They may be asked to provide matched-funding, where they have to invest an equivalent amount in their business, or they may get the grant without having to provide any matched funding themselves. It depends on how convinced the panel are by the business, about the growth plan, the business’s long-term prospects and the return on investment expected as a result of the funding. A good business that is serious about growth, who invests the time into the programme and who can demonstrate a well thought through plan for growth has an extremely good chance of success.

We’ve awarded grants to 80% of the business that have pitched for funding so far.

Whilst it is obviously very disappointing when business does not get a grant award, they do not walk away with nothing, because during the programme they have developed their plan for growth, had help and advice from experts and learnt about other funding sources. The growth plan may take a little longer to deliver and will need to be financed another way, but as one business told me “one bump on the road won’t stop me achieving what I want in the business”.

What kinds of businesses can apply? Does a company need to be of a certain size to qualify?

Businesses can apply to the accelerator if they’re based in Greater Lincolnshire, and if they’re in Manufacturing, Advanced Engineering or Logistics. We’re especially keen to hear from businesses in and around Boston, Grimsby and Scunthorpe. Businesses also need to: employ fewer than 250 people; have an annual turnover of less than €50m; and be in receipt of less than €200k of De Minimis state aid in the past 3 years.

We have 4 programmes planned for 2022 and we’re currently accepting applications for the programmes that start in May 2022 and September 2022.

For businesses that are not eligible for the accelerator, I would encourage them to apply for the 1:1 business support instead. Any business in Greater Lincolnshire can apply, so long as they meet the same size/turnover/de minimis requirements above, and so long as they’re not in the following industries: Agriculture, Coal, steel, shipbuilding, synthetic fibres sector, school-age education, banking, insurance, retail.

Interested businesses are encouraged to apply straight away as there are limited places left on the programme. For more information or to apply, please visit www.productivityhubs.co.uk or email gmumby@lincoln.ac.uk.

To keep up to date with this and future programmes, follow Productivity HUBs on LinkedIn.

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