The University of Huddersfield has secured a quarter-million-pound grant from the Office for Students (OfS), following a successful knowledge exchange bid to drive innovation between enterprising students and the region’s business community. And strategic design consultancy The Engine Room – based in Mirfield – has been entrusted to help deliver the proposed initiative.

Entitled the Innovation and Creative Exchange (ICE+), the interdisciplinary enterprise challenge programme will be rolled out to at least 750 undergraduates and postgraduates over the next two years.

SMEs from the Leeds City Region will be invited to pose real, complex business problems for the students to solve. Concepts will then be pitched back to the organisations, and the winning teams will secure internship opportunities to implement the innovations. It is also hoped that the process will lead to wider knowledge transfer partnerships and ideas for the students’ own start-ups. Furthermore, the project utilises a self-assessment tool (from the company Innovas) to monitor students’ development of key enterprising skills and attributes.

The University’s ICE+ concept has already been rigorously tested, thanks to a Royal Academy of Engineering grant which fuelled a previous scheme for three years. But when that funding came to an end, all eyes were on how to continue with the programme and ramp up its potential.

And a recent collaboration between the University’s Enterprise Team and The Engine Room uncovered one of the secret ingredients.

The University’s Head of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, Philip Clegg, explains: “Earlier this year, we asked The Engine Room’s managing director Lesley Gulliver to deliver a ‘principles of innovation’ workshop for 18 students currently undertaking their Enterprise Placement Year.

“These young people – as a collective – have a wide breadth of skills, as they come to us from Schools throughout the University. Yet few are taught specifically about innovation – a key facet of entrepreneurialism – in any real depth. Lesley is a strategic design professional with more than 25 years’ industry experience – not to mention a position as board director of Design Business Association – so she was the perfect person to help inspire the innovative mindset of our cohort.”

An augmentation of Lesley’s work has subsequently been introduced into the first phase of the ICE+ programme, which means the students will meet with The Engine Room when the challenge begins, to help unlock their design thinking potential.

Philip continued: “While The Engine Room’s initial work with The Enterprise Team was funded with the help of Santander Universities, Lesley has continued to support four students’ start-up businesses on a pro-bono basis.”

Explaining why, she elaborated: “I was really impressed with the hunger demonstrated by these young people – very quickly they demonstrated a commercial acumen that I wanted to help nurture further.

“With ICE+ not due to start until September, I hope that my continued support will help maintain the students’ appetite for innovation – especially during this tricky time.”

Philip concluded: “The education sector is just one of many that has been impacted significantly by COVID-19. Yet the enterprising spirit of our students – particularly during lockdown – has been nothing short of inspirational. Together, we’ve set up a digital pitching club, for example, to help showcase and continually develop individuals’ skills even though we’re not physically seeing each other week in, week out.

“We’re staying connected via online platforms too, so that their learning is not disrupted, and Lesley’s workshops – now also being delivered virtually – will provide the perfect interconnect between now and the start of ICE+.”