University extends £14.5m innovation grant programme

The University of Hull’s £14.5m SparkFund has extended its grants programme to help more SMEs across Yorkshire and the Humber succeed and thrive.

Now running until June 2023 – instead of an original end date of March last year – the extension comes as SMEs across the region require further flexibility and time to bring their ideas to life, as they realise fresh opportunities post-COVID-19.

Delivered by the University of Hull, SparkFund has transformed businesses across the region with over 2,500 hours of support; helping firms cut costs by £2.3m, develop 87 new products and reduce carbon emissions by 305 tonnes.

The programme has worked with SMEs to bring 231 projects to life with a funded value of £4.1m, representing a significant boost to the region’s economy.

Since launching in May 2017, the scheme has delivered 145 new-to-firm innovations, helped 130 SMEs enter new markets, created 170 new jobs and supported an estimated increase in profitability of £10.4m.

Dr David Richards, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise) at the university, said: “SparkFund is one of a number of innovation support programmes at the university to simplify innovation; providing invaluable academic and business support, access to funding streams and connecting them with the right partners to deliver their ambitions.”

SparkFund was first launched after the University of Hull secured £8.4m of funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Among the companies it has supported has been WJ Fire Retardant Ltd, which has a base in Hull. The business has developed an efficient and eco-friendly treatment to make timber fire resistant.

With SparkFund support the setup of their timber treatment facility was fast tracked – equipped with highly automated processes and the latest technology to deliver the absolute precision required.

Mark Eggleston, managing director at WJ Group, said: “Launching a new product into a market is challenging at the best of times.

“To have the Spark Fund support us in the earlier stages of this project was a huge help and testament to vision of the fund’s project team that understood the opportunity we had identified and helped to navigate us through the application process.

“This fire-retardant project has been extremely capital intensive, banks are risk adverse and were not interested in helping us fund it, so we are extremely grateful to SparkFund for sharing our vision.”

WJ Fire Retardant Ltd is on track to generate an additional revenue of £750,000 to the business from Fire Retardant sales during 2021.