Time for a fresh approach
According to Benjamin Franklin, ‘Out of adversity comes opportunity’. This is certainly the case for the creation of the Growth Hub in Gloucestershire. The Hub concept arose as a result of the University of Gloucestershire and GFirst LEP independently recognising the need to do things very differently if we were going to achieve a step change in business growth and economic performance in the county.
The University recognised the need to up its game in supporting local economic growth, and stated this as a key goal of its new strategy in 2012. At the same time the LEP recognised that a new approach to business support would be needed if we were to tackle Gloucestershire’s low productivity. Putting our heads together, we agreed to create a shared Growth Hub as one of the top three projects in the Gloucestershire Strategic Economic Plan.
And so the concept was developed; a Growth Hub that drives high value, innovative and enterprising growth for the businesses of Gloucestershire.
Catalyst funding of £2.7 million was awarded in 2014 as part of the initial development, particularly to support enhanced employability and skills activity for students, and to increase and develop new forms of employer engagement. Phase 1 brought together the staff and activities of the University’s business development area and the LEP, working together to pool and capitalise on our different business contacts and insights.
Phase 2 will co-locate the whole of the Growth Hub with the University’s Business School in a purpose-designed new building, to maximize the benefits of bringing together in a single place businesses, students, staff and the full range of our economic development activities.
A new blueprint for success
Following a year of intense preparation – that saw the development of a physical space at the University’s Oxstalls campus in Gloucester and the recruitment of a highly skilled team – the Growth Hub opened its doors for the first time in October 2014. The proposition was clear:
Great for businesses: a single front door to fully funded expertise and support, with direct access to knowledge exchange, business development and input from students.
Great for students: a dynamic channel to build their employability, gaining business skills and insight through direct engagement with business.
Great for the University: an opportunity to showcase academic expertise and develop through increased employer engagement and knowledge exchange, pursuing our role as an anchor of economic development in the county.
Great for the economy: a physical and focused mechanism to grow the economy beyond the national rate of growth, via increased gross value added, support for innovation, and the creation of jobs.
As the only Growth Hub of its kind, forged from a University and LEP collaboration, it also became the only Growth Hub to benefit from the Catalyst Fund. With this investment came a clear set of objectives, outputs and impacts that the initiative had to deliver within the first three years of operation.
The numbers that count
In July 2017, at the end of the Catalyst-funded programme, the Growth Hub had met or exceeded all the ambitions of the project. The key outputs for phase one included:
- the development of 30 new teaching/work-based learning programmes
- the creation of 12 new employer/higher education provider networks
- the completion of 13,655 work placements and internships
- 1,872 University of Gloucestershire graduates taking up jobs in Gloucestershire
- a provisional knowledge exchange income figure of £3.19 million against a target of £2.81 million
- 7,934 businesses benefiting from support interventions
- creation of 21 new business development and support services
- 905 accelerated interventions for high growth businesses.
Equally pleasing, an independent evaluation report surveyed a range of Growth Hub business users and concluded: ‘There is a strong sense that the Growth Hub is delivering its objectives for business customers. There is a high level of satisfaction with the services delivered by the Growth Hub.’
The Growth Hub has made a huge impact on all key stakeholders: businesses, students, government and the University. However, just as valuable were the lessons learned for planning the next phase of Growth Hub delivery. These are explained in greater detail in the Growth Hub report.
The critical success factors are:
Support tailored to the customer: We wanted to provide a clearly defined offer for business customers, while we could still flex to provide an effective response to individual customer needs. One size did not fit all…
The message inside and out: Getting the right messages to the right people at the right time was a priority, particularly myth busting in the wider business community about what the University and the Growth Hub could and could not offer.
Creating a call to all businesses: An effective way of getting businesses to engage with what the Growth Hub could offer was by working through Gloucestershire’s professional service organisations. They acted as intermediaries who could see the benefits of the Growth Hub for businesses of all sizes and sectors – and tell others about it.
Setting and managing expectations: Any service organisation that tries to live by the mantra ‘the answer is yes, now what’s the question?’ can quickly run out of resources. We needed to manage expectations about what we could offer and to whom.
And over time, we needed to increase the focus on finding, and working with, those clients where we could add most value to their business development.
Culture and identity: Once operational, clarity of leadership was essential to maintain a clear, consistent message and direction for staff across different teams, cultures and ways of operating. That included helping everyone make sense of evolving national priorities and programmes.
The last word
As Yvonne Hawkins, Director (Universities and Colleges) at HEFCE, sums up,
‘This project was born from a challenge to show how a University can integrate with an LEP to drive economic growth within a region. Now, three years since its inception, the Gloucestershire Growth Hub is having a positive impact on student employability, skills development and business growth.’
As the Growth Hub begins its fourth year as a provider of business development to the county, it continues to explore new opportunities to bring the worlds of academia, commerce and skills together. Still unique as the only Growth Hub formed through a partnership between a University and an LEP, we hope it offers a development blueprint for hubs throughout the UK.
Building on our achievements so far, our next major step will come later this year when we move into our new, integrated Business School and Growth Hub building, offering better facilities and better services for businesses, students and staff.