MANAGEMENT

Northumbria University developing digital clinic to offer free SME business advice

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The digitally-enabled business clinic will offer free student-led consultancy to local SMEs.

Northumbria University has won GBP44,000 in government funding to build a digitally-enabled service that offers free student-led consultancy to local SMEs.

The project to be spearheaded by the Newcastle Business School will target SMEs of low to medium productivity from struggling sectors, and provide them with a cross-functional range of advice from digital marketing tips to help with financial and strategic management decisions.

Called the “Digitally-enabled Business Clinic” (DEBC), it will be modelled after the school’s Business Clinic but will offer the advice through digital media and tools, removing the need for costly physical infrastructure.

“We know how successful our own Business Clinic has been in helping small businesses and organisations in areas such as marketing, product development and strategic planning,” Business Clinic Director Nigel Coates said.

As part of the project, the school will also test its model to see if it can be implemented at scale by other universities. The school will then prepare a “How to implement a DEBC guide”, along with a set of compelling case studies to underpin the formation of similar clinics in other regions.

“We will now create, test and evaluate a DEBC model that can be implemented quickly and cost-effectively by other universities,” Coates said.

“The advantages of a digitally-enabled model with open access digital tools means that this support will be easily available to more SMEs.”

Founded in 2013, the Newcastle Business School’s Business Clinic has now given free consultancy advice and reports to more than 200 clients, at an estimated value of more than GBP1.2 million.

The GBP44,000 funding is part of a larger GBP2 million investment offered through the government-run Business Basics Fund launched in June 2018 to support small business’ earning power. The fund operated by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy, a five-pronged national masterplan to boost productivity and earning power in the UK.

The school is among 15 successful bids to win funding for projects designed to encourage SMEs to implement proven technologies and practices.