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Home » Supporting SMEs » Over 150 SMEs supported to innovate, build resilience and boost productivity

Ian Harmer

Business Coordinator, University of Leicester School of Business

Sue Keogh

Director, Sookio Ltd

Nisha Ravat

Director, Green Tomato (Midlands) Ltd

Business schools can be impactful drivers of SME development through contributions to building business communities, inspiring fresh perspectives and enhancing the capabilities of business leaders.

Startups magazine1 recently reported that Leicester is the most entrepreneurial city in the UK with nearby Northampton and Kettering taking the top spots as entrepreneurial towns.

Schools as part of the business community 

Whether SMEs are seeking executive education, startup support, student placements, sustainability advice, business-focused events or research to drive innovation, business schools can help.

In turn, engagement with SMEs enables business schools to provide students with high-quality work placements, incorporate real-world challenges in the curriculum and showcase lectures from inspiring business leaders.

SME leaders often find themselves tied up with the daily running of their businesses with little time to step back and engage with the available opportunities. For some, this is significant as many business leaders find themselves running successful businesses with little or no support or training in management.

The University of Leicester School of Business is an established part of this growing business ecosystem alongside key partners including the Leicester Innovation Hub and Space Park Leicester.

A management course for business growth 

The 90% Government-funded Help to Grow: Management Course is a prime example of the role business schools can play in supporting SME development.

It is aimed at decision-makers in SMEs with 5–249 employees and delivered by Small Business Charter-accredited business schools across the UK. The course supports businesses to innovate, boost productivity and build resilience.

Having previously delivered similar courses including the Small Business Leadership programme and Leading to Grow programme, the University of Leicester School of Business is well-placed to provide Help to Grow: Management. The School is delighted to have support 175 SMEs in the East Midlands and East of England over the past year.

The course is so valuable for anyone with an established business.

Sue Keogh

An opportunity for busy entrepreneurs 

The course is completed over 12 weeks on a part-time basis and covers key topics such as strategy and innovation, digital adoption, winning new markets, employee engagement, responsible business practices and leading change.

With a commitment of five hours a week, the experience includes online seminars, face-to-face workshops, online peer group calls and ten hours of confidential one-to-one mentoring leading to the creation of a growth action plan. 

It has been game-changing for many SMEs. Sue Keogh, Director at Cambridge-based marketing company Sookio, says: “The course is so valuable for anyone with an established business who wants a fresh perspective so they can develop their growth strategy.

I’ve never had any formal business training, so learning about models and approaches was particularly useful. I had several penny-dropping moments in the peer sessions, and the mentoring process helped me overhaul my business strategy completely.” 

Online delivery with in-person learning

Help to Grow: Management is delivered flexibly online but also includes four half-day workshops in person at Leicester or Cambridge.

Recent feedback from participants revealed that in-person workshops bring the course to life with greater engagement, richer collaboration, more vibrant networking opportunities and increased application of knowledge.

Nisha Ravat, Director at Leicester-based grocery delivery business Green Tomato, agrees:

 “Face-to-face modules enabled discussion of how the learning can be applied to our own businesses. I have since gained confidence approaching different sectors to grow my business and am already seeing the benefits. The face-to-face aspects were priceless as we’re all in similar situations but at different stages of our journey. We all had so much to learn from each other.” 


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