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WLV

KNOWLEDGE

Issue 2 – www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

Personalised Medicine Professor John Darling discusses improved screening and diagnosis

Also in this issue: A new dynamic Staying agile? It’s business critical

Business start-up success Plastic fantastic

Rapid response Fit for business


Editor’s welcome

Welcome to the second issue of WLV KnowLEDge In issue two, you will find an informative mix of interest articles and features, written specifically for the business community. This latest edition of WLV Knowledge is available online at the WLV Knowledge Hub, where you can access business news, services and networks at: www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge On the WLV Knowledge Hub, you will also find details of the University’s events programme for the forthcoming months. Reflecting all aspects of business activity, from HR issues to developing new products, these events deliver valuable expert insight.

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WLV Knowledge Issue 2

Staying informed of developments that can help you optimise your business performance is paramount. WLV Knowledge will bring you up-to-speed on news of two exciting Visualisation Centres, to be launched later this year and award-winning support for product innovators. Find out more about them on pages 4-7. We hope you enjoy reading this issue and welcome any comments. Please send your feedback to: wlvknowledge@wlv.ac.uk Raman Sarpal Editor


Contents Contents

Innovation & enterprise

Innovation & enterprise

A new dynamic It’s a changing world and we’ve all had to adapt to survive. In the UK, a shifting political scene and the ongoing struggle to achieve economic recovery have created a challenging climate in which to operate. During these times of uncertainty, traditional roles have altered and new relationships have been forged. The role of UK universities for example, often perceived by business as centres for elite scholarly pursuit, has changed beyond recognition. Increasingly, universities are acknowledged as having a much wider role to play in regional economies than just educating highly qualified young people. Attuned to business Whilst the University of Wolverhampton has had the needs of business on its radar for some time, in recent years this role has been crystallised in the form of its Innovation and Enterprise Strategy. Leading this Strategy is Professor Ian Oakes, Pro Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise, whose own experiences at the chalk face in the automotive industry give him a solid understanding of the pressures which impact on business. His aim to position the University as a driver for economic growth within the region is more than a vision; it’s grounded in the realities facing the region. Skill injection One such reality is the on-going drive to inject more higher level skills into the region’s workforce, which remains a priority. The region has considerable ground to make up, as Ian explains:

“If you look at the metrics by which respective regions across the country are measured in terms of their competitiveness, then the West Midlands is not faring very well. When you start to dig down beyond the headline factors, such as the output gap and productivity etc, many of the factors associated with competitiveness are related to the lack of high level skills in the workplace. “Here in the Black Country, we have fewer employees in companies with graduate level skills, and a lower percentage of the population have graduate level skills, so the University’s focus on innovation and enterprise is aiming to upskill workforces in the Black Country and the broader region.” However, many companies face a dilemma. Whilst they appreciate the benefits of investing in employee skills, accommodating periods in education for employees can be difficult, but Ian is clear about the need for companies to act: “As it becomes increasingly difficult for companies to compete with overseas low-cost economies it becomes vitally important for them to maintain competitive advantage and many businesses are now looking to the intellectual capital they have within their organisation. The University has a major role to play in helping them to do this.”

In this issue A new dynamic

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Plastic fantastic

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The role of universities in the regional economies

A step towards a sustainable plastic solution

Professor Ian Oakes

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WLV Knowledge Issue 2

New collaboration to boost next generation’s success

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Raising the grey ceiling

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Staying agile? It’s business critical

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A recipe for success

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Stanford and Wolverhampton Universities collaborate

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Fit for business

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Exporting Black Country expertise

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Business start-up success

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Tailor made treatments – the future of medicine

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Rapid response

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University of Wolverhampton and Institute of Directors partnership to support business students Reducing landfill

Reducing landfill

Exploring the impact of an ageing workforce

Plastic fantastic Arguably, the disposable nature of the plastic bag; more than any other consumer item; epitomises our throw-away culture. For decades we’ve treated thermoplastic packaging materials such as carrier bags as disposable commodities to be produced, consumed and thrown away in their billions.

In the UK alone, nearly 10 billion plastic carrier bags are distributed each year*; that’s about 400 per household. Consumers have come to rely on plastic bags, and it’s easy to see why. They are lightweight, strong and water-resistant, and it is these attractive properties which have secured their wide-spread use. Breaking entrenched consumer habits has been at the heart of initiatives from the Government and private sector, which were aimed at limiting consumer reliance on the ‘single use’ carrier bag. A number of leading supermarkets voluntarily pledged to reduce their carrier bag distribution by 50%**, whilst other retailers charge for their plastic bags. Offering alternatives, such as the ‘bag for life’ has also become common practice.

Whilst such initiatives have raised public awareness and helped reduce the numbers of bags distributed, consumer attitudes in the UK and other Western economies have been slow to change. Meanwhile, this product of modern convenience poses a growing problem for authorities at both local and national level, with the bulk of waste plastics headed for municipal landfill at an unsustainable rate. Long-term legacy Most plastic bags, being petroleumbased, rely on costly, dwindling supplies of fossil fuels for their production, leaving both businesses and consumers vulnerable to fluctuations in the price of crude oil. If this wasn’t reason enough to reduce their usage, there’s the environmental impact of plastic waste to consider. Nature isn’t equipped to deal with synthetic plastics.

Although we can’t accurately estimate rates of decomposition – thermoplastics simply haven’t been around for long enough to be certain – most scientists agree it’s likely to be a very, very long time indeed, with 100-500 years commonly quoted. Although it’s obvious that the accumulation of petrochemical plastic waste in the environment cannot continue at its current rate, we continue to bury the problem. In 2010, the decision by DEFRA not to enforce a landfill ban on items such as used plastics was met with relief by the plastics industry. According to the British Plastics Federation this is not due to a lack of will on the part of the industry, which it claims is keen to divert used plastics from landfill, but because the UK’s recycling and energy from waste capacity simply cannot keep pace with demand.

With no large-scale alternatives to landfill on offer, there is increasing pressure on the scientific community to provide a solution. One area of exploration is the potential to alter the composition of thermoplastic to hasten the decomposition of thermoplastic waste. A University of Wolverhampton team headed by Dr Iza Radecka has been looking at this in detail, and in particular, the potential for developing a natural, renewable and biocompatible bioplastic from bacteria. A bug in every bag Bugs could be the answer. For some time, professionals working in the polymer field have been aware of the potential of bacteria known to produce poly-hydroxyalkanoates (PHA) for the manufacture of biodegradable plastics. Iza’s own research specialises in PHAs as a replacement for many of the nonbiodegradable petrochemical derived plastics currently in use.

Although the initial cost attached to the production of these bioplastics has caused them to be neglected, growing environmental concerns have injected new urgency into research, as Iza explains: “There has been increased interest amongst the research community to investigate the potential applications for PHAs. This research could render shopping bags and other packaging material more effectively biodegradable, helping reduce its negative environmental impact. Through our research, we also hope to fully realise the other extraordinary abilities of certain bacteria to synthesise commercially useful and important biomaterials.”

Embracing change to remain competitive in the marketplace

How collaborative working can boost business performance * Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), 2008 ** In December 2008, seven of Britain’s leading supermarkets pledged to cut the number of carrier bags distributed by the end of May 2009 by 50% (against 2006 levels).

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WLV Knowledge Issue 2

Universities share their expertise in mobile technologies

Improving employee health and wellbeing Ageing workforce

Ageing workforce

Raising the grey ceiling Gradually, the average age of the UK’s labour force has been increasing, with more employees opting to extend their working lives. In light of this trend, which has now been recognised with a change in employment legislation, should employers be doing more to realise the full potential of their mature employees? Since April 2011, most employers can no longer impose a compulsory retirement age of 65, allowing older employees to remain in work for longer should they choose to. Mature and experienced employees have a great deal to offer the workplace. However, recognising that the training needs and motivations of older employees may differ from other sections of the workforce is crucial to unlocking latent talent. Older and wiser For those sectors facing skilled labour shortages, brought about by the generation of baby boomers who took early retirement and a shortage of skilled graduates to replace them, the new legislation is well timed. The ability to extend the careers of knowledgeable and experienced workers is likely to be helpful to many companies explains Simon Brandwood, Head of Careers and Employment Services at the University of Wolverhampton: “The change in legislation removing the compulsory retirement age gives industry the opportunity to retain years of experience and skills. Knowledge, especially industry specific knowledge, is a key competitive advantage that until recently left the company with the employee reaching the age of 65.” Refreshing skills Whilst the retention of high levels of work experience is good for productivity, the skills of older workers are more likely to

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date back to knowledge they acquired before entry to the labour market, or in the early stages of their careers. Reliance on outdated skills could impact upon innovation and productivity, so employers need to consider ways of maintaining the relevance of the skills of older workers. As the average age of employees rises, the mature workforce more than ever will be called upon to meet new and emerging skill needs, and therefore the development and advancement of employees who are nearing or beyond normal retirement age should not be neglected. For Simon Brandwood, meeting the training and education needs of knowledgeable and skilled professionals is crucial: “Skill shortages are ever apparent, especially in engineering. The removal of a compulsory retirement age allows companies to invest in their employees, meaning the development of the individual and company alike.” Teaching an old dog new tricks In the past, training for employees nearing retirement may have represented a poorer return on training investment for employers. Likewise, for older employees the incentives to train in terms of higher wages or improved job opportunities decrease as the period in which they can realise these benefits becomes shorter. Now that working lives are extending, there is greater impetus on employer and employee to ensure that the employability and progression of older workers is maintained through relevant training and education. The shift in the age structure of the workforce is an opportunity for employers to review their current training practices to ensure that the skills of older workers are kept up-to-date, enabling both employer to and employee to benefit. For instance, employers may need to look at ways of making training and its mode of delivery more attractive to their older employees.

The University of Wolverhampton works with employers to develop suitable training provision. Flexibility is crucial, says Simon Brandwood:

Supporting under-developed communities

“Providing modes of delivery which minimise disruption to work routines such as on-the-job training, short courses or modular courses has become increasingly important. The costs attached to these are also likely to be recovered more quickly by employers and employees.” Passing on the knowledge Employers should recognise that the career motivations of older employees may have changed over time. Workers at the latter stages of their working lives may be less career driven, and possibly seek roles with reduced levels of stress and responsibility. Utilising the substantial skills these employees can bring to your business in ‘softer roles’ makes good sense. Mature employees are particularly well suited to mentoring or coaching roles, both formal and informal. Older workers have a great deal to offer organisations in terms of the knowledge and experience they can pass to younger employees. These contributions can add value to business performance and ideally should be supported with relevant training and development to help them perform these roles effectively. The ageing of the labour force has proved to be more than a passing phenomenon; it’s a business reality. Employers would be wise to adapt their practices in order to get the most from their mature workforce. Those who do so, are likely to realise the greatest benefits for their business. Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

Graduates grasping the opportunity to set up their own business

New screening techniques improving diagnosis

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WLV Knowledge Issue 2

How expertise in rapid manufacturing may help Britain stay ahead

Business change

Business change

Health and wellbeing

Health and wellbeing

Staying agile? It’s business critical The latest figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) show that there are around 4.5 million UK private sector enterprises in the UK, employing 22.5 million people and turning over a combined £3,200bn. Pretty impressive numbers and something that Business Minister, Mark Prisk describes as evidence of the “resilience of British business”. In a bid to protect themselves from the economic downturn of recent years, all businesses have had to make significant changes as well as some very tough decisions along the way. While luck and timing plays a large part in a business’s resilience to recession, it is the choices and changes that businesses make which sees some survive while others unfortunately fail. The severity of the funding crisis that has accompanied the global downturn has seen this recession claim some very good businesses as casualties. Despite a clear strategy and effective management, even companies which were highly geared at the time of the credit crunch have had the rug pulled from beneath them due to the nature and timing of the crisis.

WLV Knowledge Issue 2

SPEEDing ahead

The Student Placements for Entrepreneurs in Education West Midlands (SPEED WM) project helps entrepreneurial students to set up their own businesses whilst they are studying. Successful candidates receive experienced mentoring support, tailored training, networking opportunities, access to incubation space and a small amount of financial support. Those organisations that have fared well – and even grown – in the last few years have done so because they have ensured they are fit for purpose in the context of the current market. They also have a keen eye on how they might need to adapt to tomorrow’s market. Dr Anthea Gregory, Dean of the University of Wolverhampton Business School, explains; “By their very nature, businesses are not entities that can afford to stand still. There is no blue print for success that can be captured and applied by all businesses. The magic formula is always changing and it’s those businesses that are fleet of foot, constantly adapting to market conditions that survive and even thrive in a depressed economy. The most important feature that successful businesses share is their ability to adapt and stay one step ahead of future challenges.” In May, Business Secretary, Vince Cable issued a warning to businesses of the risks that lie ahead for the UK economy. Despite this uncertain backdrop, a report from BIS shows that new businesses are on the rise, with an increase of 48,000 start-ups in 2010 on the previous year. With fears that the worst may be yet to come for some, these figures may seem surprising.

Dr Gregory comments: “We have to acknowledge the fact that start-ups are often the by-product of recession as people are made redundant and forced to go it alone in the absence of alternative employment. It’s important for the health of the overall economy that as many of these new enterprises survive.

Peter Richards, Managing Director, Armstrong UEN Ltd.

During times of recession, among the redundancies there is often a corresponding increase in the number of new business startups, with many people turning unemployment into an opportunity to become self employed or realise a dream to start their own business. Small businesses are an essential part of the British economy – paying tax, National Insurance and VAT and contributing more than 49% of the UK turnover. 22.8 million people work in small and medium-sized firms – accounting for more than 59.8% of the private sector workforce.*

Fit for business

“History shows us that the longer a business is established, the more likely it is to flourish. However, longevity is no guarantee for survival as the victims of this recession have shown us. It’s important however that fledgling businesses get their house in order from the beginning. The basics, such as a sound business plan and tight cash flow management are critical to navigating the early years in business.”

Professor Laura Serrant Green, is well placed to observe the trends affecting both the health and business sectors. As Director of Research and Enterprise at the School of Health and Wellbeing, she’s witnessed the growing synergy which exists between traditional patient care and employer care.

The message to business is clear – staying agile is business critical. It also has a direct impact on the wider economy. The ‘fitness’ of all 4.5 million companies in the UK will greatly affect the pace of recovery.

Employers are now encouraged to consider the welfare of their workforce not only in terms of their health and safety, which is a legal obligation, but also in promoting better lifestyle and wellbeing practices within the workplace. It’s a shift in emphasis that Laura partly attributes to changes that have occurred across the NHS:

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

“In the UK, we are extremely fortunate to have the NHS as the main provider of healthcare. Increasingly though, not everything we now require in relation to

Dr Anthea Gregory

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SPEEDing ahead

Business start-up success

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health and wellbeing can be provided by the NHS, and the private sector will grow to fill the gap.” This is likely to result in more private and voluntary providers of healthrelated services springing up, so we can anticipate some healthy growth in the sector. For employers in general, it means taking on increasing responsibility for the health of their staff. When you consider recent statistics for work-related ill health, this seems a logical step. With so much of the working population’s time spent at work, the potential for it to impact upon physical and mental wellbeing cannot be dismissed. Taking care of business Through her role in the Centre for Health and Social Care Improvement, Laura is conscious that the input of healthcare

professionals is now being sought by companies on every aspect of business operations in order to achieve a healthier workforce and workplace. “Clients call upon our expertise around a whole range of issues within health and wellbeing which crosses education, training, consultancy, expert input into health and safety, service improvement and project management. We also have people within the School who have experience in particular sectors, so it might be around workforce development, psychological and mental health, building capacity and capability – so there are a lot of transferable skills that businesses can tap into.

Professor Laura Serrant Green

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The importance of small businesses on the economy should not be underestimated. There are several agencies and schemes in the West Midlands and Black Country aimed at helping young people to fulfil their business aspirations. Many provide examples of success that make welcome reading, and help inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to give running their own company a go, particularly in the region’s traditional manufacturing and engineering sectors. Encouraging this new talent to stay in the region is vital for ensuring innovation and expertise for the future.

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Graduate entrepreneur SPEEDing ahead Peter Richards, took advantage of the SPEED programme to start up his first business whilst at the University of Wolverhampton with only £1,200 in savings and a slice of his student loan. He graduated in 2009 with a BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering and is currently running Armstrong UEN Ltd, which manufactures CNC milling and cutting machines. We asked Peter about his motivation, career to date, and future plans. “Since I was small I have been interested in how things work. I was always taking things apart and putting them back together – manufacturing my own things from scratch: radio controlled cars, rockets and parts. I have always wanted to manufacture things and been fascinated about business. Working for someone else is something that I wouldn’t like to do; I will always be working for myself or for my own company creating something new.” Peter’s studies expanded upon his interest in engineering, and provided the opportunity to be part of the wider engineering community. They allowed him to gain recognition as an engineer through carrying out research projects and investigations into engineering problems. By developing his understanding of advanced manufacturing techniques

Peter was able to identify possibilities for new parts and products – an essential aspect of offering better products than the competition. Being at University also provided Peter with access to the SPEED programme. “The SPEED programme helped me realise my aspirations by giving me the knowledge, understanding, advice and confidence I needed to start my business whilst at University. The early decisions I made with my business were the right ones – such as to start a Limited Company. I received tax advice and help with employing my first employee.”

Create a plan – so you know exactly where you should be and what you should be doing.

Work out what your products are, who your customers are, and how you are going to get those customers to buy from you.

Learn everything possible about your business area – the more you can do this, the easier running a business will be and the more your customers will notice.

Raise as much money as you can – and spend the money wisely.

Be cautious, but don’t be afraid to ask questions or speak up for yourself.

Don’t give up if it fails or doesn’t work out as well as you had hoped: it can be very easy to lose all your money very quickly without ever really knowing why. Learn from your mistakes and move on to something better.

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

“Of course there have been risks involved – to secure a contract for some engineering design work I needed to purchase some expensive engineering software and borrow a small amount of money from the bank. This took some persuading, but about six months later I had paid the money back which was a great relief.” Peter is justifiably proud of his achievements, some of which would appear quite humble – such as taking on an office, or gaining ISO 9001 accreditation for his company. However, a true entrepreneur, he continues to look to the future. “What drives me the most is that I am doing something that (although there are a lot of risks and sleepless nights) I am proud of. Creating something new and interesting, producing great innovative products, employing high numbers of people, and being a recognised brand/ company in the markets we enter continues to motivate me.” Having experienced many of the challenges that starting up a business can bring; and successfully conquered them; what advice would Peter give to fellow entrepreneurs? *Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) Statistics for the UK and Regions 2009, Oct 2010

Assembly CNC machine

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Innovation & enterprise

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Innovation & enterprise

A new dynamic It’s a changing world and we’ve all had to adapt to survive. In the UK, a shifting political scene and the ongoing struggle to achieve economic recovery have created a challenging climate in which to operate. During these times of uncertainty, traditional roles have altered and new relationships have been forged. The role of UK universities for example, often perceived by business as centres for elite scholarly pursuit, has changed beyond recognition. Increasingly, universities are acknowledged as having a much wider role to play in regional economies than just educating highly qualified young people. Attuned to business Whilst the University of Wolverhampton has had the needs of business on its radar for some time, in recent years this role has been crystallised in the form of its Innovation and Enterprise Strategy. Leading this Strategy is Professor Ian Oakes, Pro Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise, whose own experiences at the chalk face in the automotive industry give him a solid understanding of the pressures which impact on business. His aim to position the University as a driver for economic growth within the region is more than a vision; it’s grounded in the realities facing the region. Skill injection One such reality is the on-going drive to inject more higher level skills into the region’s workforce, which remains a priority. The region has considerable ground to make up, as Ian explains:

“If you look at the metrics by which respective regions across the country are measured in terms of their competitiveness, then the West Midlands is not faring very well. When you start to dig down beyond the headline factors, such as the output gap and productivity etc, many of the factors associated with competitiveness are related to the lack of high level skills in the workplace. “Here in the Black Country, we have fewer employees in companies with graduate level skills, and a lower percentage of the population have graduate level skills, so the University’s focus on innovation and enterprise is aiming to upskill workforces in the Black Country and the broader region.” However, many companies face a dilemma. Whilst they appreciate the benefits of investing in employee skills, accommodating periods in education for employees can be difficult, but Ian is clear about the need for companies to act: “As it becomes increasingly difficult for companies to compete with overseas low-cost economies it becomes vitally important for them to maintain competitive advantage and many businesses are now looking to the intellectual capital they have within their organisation. The University has a major role to play in helping them to do this.”

Professor Ian Oakes

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Innovation & enterprise

This role has resulted in a flexible delivery mechanism for many of the University’s courses, which wrap learning around workplace problems and place this learning into an accredited framework. Courses are designed to be more easily absorbed into work routines, including bite-sized chunks of learning which can be studied in the workplace or out of normal working hours. Generating recovery The manufacturing sector in the UK has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. As a region which has relied heavily on industry and manufacturing, the West Midlands has been seriously challenged by lower cost overseas economies. As many regional businesses struggle for survival, Ian believes that innovation is a key factor in stimulating recovery: “Companies need to develop new products, new processes and engage in new markets in order to improve their competitiveness. Retaining viable companies in the region is crucial. “Not only can the University of Wolverhampton help businesses to identify new markets which can make use of their expertise, it can also identify the sort of skills and knowledge they require to enter those new markets.

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Companies can work with us on short consultancy projects, become part of our highly successful Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme, or get involved in on-going research projects. They can gain product support through the Caparo Innovation Centre or join one of our networks and meet other businesses from a similar sector.”

Based at Wolverhampton Science Park, Caparo Innovation Centre has helped more than 800 inventors assess the viability of their ideas as well as taking a number of different inventions through to market. It is staffed by a team of product and business development professionals covering a range of engineering, marketing, design and business skills.

Turning ideas into business realities The University has a strong track record in assisting companies who wish to diversify or innovate. The Green Roof Tile Company, based in the Midlands, is one such company. They approached the award-winning Caparo Innovation Centre, a collaborative venture between the University of Wolverhampton and Caparo plc, which provides new product development services to inventors and businesses.

Research in action More exciting opportunities for the world of work and education to do business were announced as part of the Innovation and Enterprise Strategy’s latest wave of activity. Ian is keen to “unlock” more of the knowledge that resides in the University for the benefit of businesses, in particular its research expertise.

Together, they were able to explore product viability for an innovative, environmentally friendly domestic roof tile system. The University developed conceptualised CAD drawings from initial company sketches of the roof tile and system accessories, followed by the production of laser sintered prototype tiles and parts, which were tested and evaluated by The Green Roof Tile Company. The University also helped produce marketing collateral, an Installation Guide and the Technical Specification for the EnviroTile range in preparation for its launch.

The potential for businesses to utilise the research which is being undertaken by universities is, Ian believes, a missed opportunity. Wolverhampton has taken a step closer to making its research available with two Visualisation Centres, which will become operational later this year. “This is something we’re working on, and I’m pleased to report we’ve received substantial funding to develop two Visualisation Centres; one in Wolverhampton and another on our Telford Campus. The Visualisation Centres will provide us with an opportunity to really demonstrate to businesses all the


Innovation & enterprise

pictures latest developments that our research activities are now generating. Businesses will be able to come into what will be a very creative space. By using advanced ICT technologies they can see how our research capabilities can actually help their businesses by focusing on key themes and key sectors.” Investing in ideas The loss of skilled graduates is another pressing issue which continues to have an influence on the prosperity of the region, as Ian explains: “We’re a net exporter of graduates, so we’re losing more graduates from the region than we are retaining. Therefore, the University is seeking ways to keep its talented graduates in the region. This will involve assisting more of them in starting their own businesses here in Wolverhampton.”

own graduates moving through into our excellent incubator facilities and starting their own businesses in the region. “The University of Wolverhampton intends to establish a Graduate Incubation Programme, which will help them to start up their own businesses here in Wolverhampton, create more jobs for the people of Wolverhampton and the Black Country and again, generate economic growth.” Whether a graduate of the University or not, incubation facilities at Telford’s e-Innovation Centre and Wolverhampton Science Park are designed to assist new-start businesses through their early growth stages.

Progressive universities like Wolverhampton are aware of their ongoing responsibility to their graduates and the region. Through its new Graduate Incubation Programme, the University of Wolverhampton will be able to honour both commitments:

Accessing expertise Ian believes that the wealth of knowledge, facilities and expertise that UK universities can offer the business community shouldn’t remain a well-kept secret. Wolverhampton’s capacity to work with businesses is well-established, having supported over 5,000 companies over the last 10 years. Ian has realised plans which have made the University’s services more accessible than ever.

“Whilst the University has a tremendous track record of working with our undergraduates to help them develop their business ideas, what we haven’t seen to date is sufficient numbers of our

“A priority has been to provide a very simple channel to market through the Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre. The Centre provides a highly visible point of contact located on our

Wolverhampton Science Park. Having that resource provides businesses with a very easily accessible way to identify the appropriate help, expertise and guidance they need to address their particular problem.” The Centre enables companies seeking business growth and improvement services to draw upon the expertise of the University, the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, City of Wolverhampton College, Business Link West Midlands and Wolverhampton City Council. Since its launch last year, it’s provided advice and business services to over 1,000 enquirers. So, the next time your business takes you past the doors of your local university, don’t suppose it to be the preserve of intellectuals and academics. Thanks to a dynamic innovation and enterprise focus, Wolverhampton’s doors are certainly open for business.

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

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Reducing landfill

Plastic fantastic Arguably, the disposable nature of the plastic bag; more than any other consumer item; epitomises our throw-away culture. For decades we’ve treated thermoplastic packaging materials such as carrier bags as disposable commodities to be produced, consumed and thrown away in their billions.

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In the UK alone, nearly 10 billion plastic carrier bags are distributed each year*; that’s about 400 per household. Consumers have come to rely on plastic bags, and it’s easy to see why. They are lightweight, strong and water-resistant, and it is these attractive properties which have secured their wide-spread use. Breaking entrenched consumer habits has been at the heart of initiatives from the Government and private sector, which were aimed at limiting consumer reliance on the ‘single use’ carrier bag. A number of leading supermarkets voluntarily pledged to reduce their carrier bag distribution by 50%**, whilst other retailers charge for their plastic bags. Offering alternatives, such as the ‘bag for life’ has also become common practice.

Whilst such initiatives have raised public awareness and helped reduce the numbers of bags distributed, consumer attitudes in the UK and other Western economies have been slow to change. Meanwhile, this product of modern convenience poses a growing problem for authorities at both local and national level, with the bulk of waste plastics headed for municipal landfill at an unsustainable rate. Long-term legacy Most plastic bags, being petroleumbased, rely on costly, dwindling supplies of fossil fuels for their production, leaving both businesses and consumers vulnerable to fluctuations in the price of crude oil. If this wasn’t reason enough to reduce their usage, there’s the environmental impact of plastic waste to consider. Nature isn’t equipped to deal with synthetic plastics.


Reducing landfill

Although we can’t accurately estimate rates of decomposition – thermoplastics simply haven’t been around for long enough to be certain – most scientists agree it’s likely to be a very, very long time indeed, with 100-500 years commonly quoted. Although it’s obvious that the accumulation of petrochemical plastic waste in the environment cannot continue at its current rate, we continue to bury the problem. In 2010, the decision by DEFRA not to enforce a landfill ban on items such as used plastics was met with relief by the plastics industry. According to the British Plastics Federation this is not due to a lack of will on the part of the industry, which it claims is keen to divert used plastics from landfill, but because the UK’s recycling and energy from waste capacity simply cannot keep pace with demand.

With no large-scale alternatives to landfill on offer, there is increasing pressure on the scientific community to provide a solution. One area of exploration is the potential to alter the composition of thermoplastic to hasten the decomposition of thermoplastic waste. A University of Wolverhampton team headed by Dr Iza Radecka has been looking at this in detail, and in particular, the potential for developing a natural, renewable and biocompatible bioplastic from bacteria. A bug in every bag Bugs could be the answer. For some time, professionals working in the polymer field have been aware of the potential of bacteria known to produce poly-hydroxyalkanoates (PHA) for the manufacture of biodegradable plastics. Iza’s own research specialises in PHAs as a replacement for many of the nonbiodegradable petrochemical derived plastics currently in use.

Although the initial cost attached to the production of these bioplastics has caused them to be neglected, growing environmental concerns have injected new urgency into research, as Iza explains: “There has been increased interest amongst the research community to investigate the potential applications for PHAs. This research could render shopping bags and other packaging material more effectively biodegradable, helping reduce its negative environmental impact. Through our research, we also hope to fully realise the other extraordinary abilities of certain bacteria to synthesise commercially useful and important biomaterials.”

* Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), 2008 ** In December 2008, seven of Britain’s leading supermarkets pledged to cut the number of carrier bags distributed by the end of May 2009 by 50% (against 2006 levels).

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Reducing landfill

Commercially, this area is ripe for development and companies that do so stand to gain a competitive advantage. Dr Iza Radecka

Commercial applications Bacterial bioplastic such as PHA can not only contribute to a solution for the disposal of manufactured plastics, their unique properties make them suitable for many other commercial uses. Because PHA is immunologically inert and is slowly degraded in animal or human tissue, this property can be exploited for the slow release of drugs in the body. Agricultural applications include encapsulation of seeds for increased shelf-life and improved germination rates, encapsulation of fertilizers for slow release, manufacture of biodegradable transparent plastic films for crop protection and biodegradable containers for hothouse facilities. Commercially, this area is ripe for development and companies that do so stand to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. The International Symposium on BioPolymers 2010, in Stuttgart reported encouraging advances in PHA production:

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“Currently, several companies in different parts of the world are expanding fermentation capacities for PHA production… The currently low oil price caused by the financial/economic crisis probably will increase again in near future. Therefore, development of sustainable alternatives to petrol-based polymer chemistry such as production of biopolymers or bio-based polymers will become economically feasible.”

Working within the Research Institute in Healthcare Science (RIHS), Iza is a member of the Food Biology, Medical Microbiology and Disinfection Research Group. To find out more about this and other research being carried out within RIHS, visit: www.wlv.ac.uk/rihs

Iza, who attended the International Symposium, is excited about the potential commercial applications for bacterial bioplastics:

01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

“There are still challenges in developing biodegradable, high performance bacterial plastics, however significant progress has been made in different labs around the world. Bioplastics are a rapid growth area; it is a very interesting time for research in this area.”

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre


Employability

New collaboration to boost next generation’s success The University of Wolverhampton is proud of its latest measure that improves the employability of its students and prepares them for the rigours of life after study.

A new collaboration with the Institute of Directors (IoD) aims to establish a mentoring programme for students of the Business School. Members of the IoD are being encouraged to volunteer for the scheme and pass on their practical business experience to the next generation of businessmen and women. It is hoped that the scheme will encourage students’ career aspirations, provide a deep understanding of the realities of business, as well as potentially provide future employment opportunities. With companies seeking highly competent employees to fuel local economic recovery and regeneration, the IoD is eager to work more closely with the University of Wolverhampton at this time. John Phillips, Regional Director says: “The IoD is very keen to build on important links with education and we value our relationship with the University of Wolverhampton. We are enthusiastic about the mentoring programme we are about to launch with students. Additionally we value the opportunities for knowledge transfer between the University and the local business community. The Wolverhampton and Black Country economy is strategically very important to the UK but

we can do much more to improve our competitive position and I believe we will make a strong partnership.” The IoD is dedicated to help produce high quality graduates who are committed to stay and work in the region, enhancing local competitiveness and productivity. The partnership also aims to improve communication between local businesses and the University, and to foster opportunities for knowledge transfer. Dr Anthea Gregory, Dean of the University of Wolverhampton Business School adds: “I am delighted that the IoD has offered to support the School and its students in this way. Directors are inevitably very busy people and to give up their time is very generous but also indicative of their belief in the need to develop and inspire the next generation of managers. The benefits to students will be immense, what better than to be mentored by someone who has reached the pinnacle of their organisation or profession, our students will learn so much from this process. If you are interested in joining the mentoring scheme, or to find out more, email: sue.hurrell@iod.com

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Ageing workforce

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Ageing workforce

Raising the grey ceiling Gradually, the average age of the UK’s labour force has been increasing, with more employees opting to extend their working lives. In light of this trend, which has now been recognised with a change in employment legislation, should employers be doing more to realise the full potential of their mature employees? Since April 2011, most employers can no longer impose a compulsory retirement age of 65, allowing older employees to remain in work for longer should they choose to. Mature and experienced employees have a great deal to offer the workplace. However, recognising that the training needs and motivations of older employees may differ from other sections of the workforce is crucial to unlocking latent talent. Older and wiser For those sectors facing skilled labour shortages, brought about by the generation of baby boomers who took early retirement and a shortage of skilled graduates to replace them, the new legislation is well timed. The ability to extend the careers of knowledgeable and experienced workers is likely to be helpful to many companies explains Simon Brandwood, Head of Careers and Employment Services at the University of Wolverhampton: “The change in legislation removing the compulsory retirement age gives industry the opportunity to retain years of experience and skills. Knowledge, especially industry specific knowledge, is a key competitive advantage that until recently left the company with the employee reaching the age of 65.” Refreshing skills Whilst the retention of high levels of work experience is good for productivity, the skills of older workers are more likely to

date back to knowledge they acquired before entry to the labour market, or in the early stages of their careers. Reliance on outdated skills could impact upon innovation and productivity, so employers need to consider ways of maintaining the relevance of the skills of older workers. As the average age of employees rises, the mature workforce more than ever will be called upon to meet new and emerging skill needs, and therefore the development and advancement of employees who are nearing or beyond normal retirement age should not be neglected. For Simon Brandwood, meeting the training and education needs of knowledgeable and skilled professionals is crucial: “Skill shortages are ever apparent, especially in engineering. The removal of a compulsory retirement age allows companies to invest in their employees, meaning the development of the individual and company alike.” Teaching an old dog new tricks In the past, training for employees nearing retirement may have represented a poorer return on training investment for employers. Likewise, for older employees the incentives to train in terms of higher wages or improved job opportunities decrease as the period in which they can realise these benefits becomes shorter. Now that working lives are extending, there is greater impetus on employer and employee to ensure that the employability and progression of older workers is maintained through relevant training and education. The shift in the age structure of the workforce is an opportunity for employers to review their current training practices to ensure that the skills of older workers are kept up-to-date, enabling both employer to and employee to benefit. For instance, employers may need to look at ways of making training and its mode of delivery more attractive to their older employees.

The University of Wolverhampton works with employers to develop suitable training provision. Flexibility is crucial, says Simon Brandwood: “Providing modes of delivery which minimise disruption to work routines such as on-the-job training, short courses or modular courses has become increasingly important. The costs attached to these are also likely to be recovered more quickly by employers and employees.” Passing on the knowledge Employers should recognise that the career motivations of older employees may have changed over time. Workers at the latter stages of their working lives may be less career driven, and possibly seek roles with reduced levels of stress and responsibility. Utilising the substantial skills these employees can bring to your business in ‘softer roles’ makes good sense. Mature employees are particularly well suited to mentoring or coaching roles, both formal and informal. Older workers have a great deal to offer organisations in terms of the knowledge and experience they can pass to younger employees. These contributions can add value to business performance and ideally should be supported with relevant training and development to help them perform these roles effectively. The ageing of the labour force has proved to be more than a passing phenomenon; it’s a business reality. Employers would be wise to adapt their practices in order to get the most from their mature workforce. Those who do so, are likely to realise the greatest benefits for their business. Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

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Business change

Staying agile? It’s business critical The latest figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) show that there are around 4.5 million UK private sector enterprises in the UK, employing 22.5 million people and turning over a combined £3,200bn. Pretty impressive numbers and something that Business Minister, Mark Prisk describes as evidence of the “resilience of British business”. In a bid to protect themselves from the economic downturn of recent years, all businesses have had to make significant changes as well as some very tough decisions along the way. While luck and timing plays a large part in a business’s resilience to recession, it is the choices and changes that businesses make which sees some survive while others unfortunately fail. The severity of the funding crisis that has accompanied the global downturn has seen this recession claim some very good businesses as casualties. Despite a clear strategy and effective management, even companies which were highly geared at the time of the credit crunch have had the rug pulled from beneath them due to the nature and timing of the crisis.

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Business change

Those organisations that have fared well – and even grown – in the last few years have done so because they have ensured they are fit for purpose in the context of the current market. They also have a keen eye on how they might need to adapt to tomorrow’s market. Dr Anthea Gregory, Dean of the University of Wolverhampton Business School, explains; “By their very nature, businesses are not entities that can afford to stand still. There is no blue print for success that can be captured and applied by all businesses. The magic formula is always changing and it’s those businesses that are fleet of foot, constantly adapting to market conditions that survive and even thrive in a depressed economy. The most important feature that successful businesses share is their ability to adapt and stay one step ahead of future challenges.” In May, Business Secretary, Vince Cable issued a warning to businesses of the risks that lie ahead for the UK economy. Despite this uncertain backdrop, a report from BIS shows that new businesses are on the rise, with an increase of 48,000 start-ups in 2010 on the previous year. With fears that the worst may be yet to come for some, these figures may seem surprising.

Dr Gregory comments: “We have to acknowledge the fact that start-ups are often the by-product of recession as people are made redundant and forced to go it alone in the absence of alternative employment. It’s important for the health of the overall economy that as many of these new enterprises survive. “History shows us that the longer a business is established, the more likely it is to flourish. However, longevity is no guarantee for survival as the victims of this recession have shown us. It’s important however that fledgling businesses get their house in order from the beginning. The basics, such as a sound business plan and tight cash flow management are critical to navigating the early years in business.” The message to business is clear – staying agile is business critical. It also has a direct impact on the wider economy. The ‘fitness’ of all 4.5 million companies in the UK will greatly affect the pace of recovery.

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

Dr Anthea Gregory

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Collaboration

A recipe for success The current economic climate continues to challenge businesses across the UK, particularly in the manufacturing and engineering sectors. However, one way in which companies have enhanced their productivity is by diversifying. In order to do this, there has been a noticeable increase in collaborative working – particularly through online business to business marketplaces – with organisations from different areas of expertise coming together to make an impact in new markets with innovative products, services and applications.

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Working in partnership with another organisation brings with it a unique set of challenges for companies of all sizes, particularly for smaller, owner managed businesses that may not have worked so closely with another commercial enterprise before, and are used to taking the lead and being in sole control of all projects.

new age of online collaboration, speed may seem to be of the essence but, as The Boston Consultancy Group highlights, traditional rules of business success still apply. “Three factors, in particular, can substantially increase a marketplace’s chances of success: a sound business model, committed founding partners, and a businesslike approach to managing the enterprise.”

Although collaboration introduces a range of challenges, when these are overcome, it can provide a wealth of new opportunities to businesses looking for new direction and focus that would simply be unavailable to a company working on its own.

However, before we even get to thinking about how a successful collaboration works in practice, the first step is to ensure you are working with the right partner.

Finding the right partner Working in collaboration with one or more partners requires careful planning, robust communication channels and the willingness to be flexible – in the

A collaborative project will often arise when a company is looking to tap into a new market sector. While the experience and reputation of the company you are working with is important, this is really just a hygiene factor. Compatibility is


Collaboration

equally as important as competency, and businesses should be careful to see if they have the right chemistry with their selected partner before leaping into a project. Ensuring that both parties have visited each others’ premises and introducing the day-to-day teams to one another is crucial in determining if the pairing is going to work.

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Collaboration

Award-winning team: (left-right) Neil Crochett, Regional Director CISCO; Paul Buszard, University of Wolverhampton; Roy Taylor, Managing Director, Malthouse Engineering; Mark Hayward, KTP Associate; Lord Stafford.

While a lot of work may have already gone into identifying the best partner on paper, it’s okay to walk away at this stage if there is a clash of cultures, rather than get involved in a partnership that will cause further problems – at worst, litigation – further down the line. The recipe for success Working with more than one partner brings a set of practical challenges and in the planning stages careful attention should be paid to how each party can align their processes for successful day to day working. This is particularly true in terms of project management – it should be decided in the early stages who will take responsibility for this, as without central direction it can be easy for projects to lose direction, ultimately resulting in potential opportunities lost. Another vital aspect of collaborative working frequently overlooked is the need for effective marketing. Rather than a silo approach, with each party promoting the project independently, a co-ordinated approach will pay dividends. Often issues of funding need to be addressed, as well as ensuring that each partner, and the collaboration itself, achieve the appropriate balance of publicity. Collaborative working in practice The Advanced Business Development Network (ABDN) is a cluster group of

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18 independent engineering-based SMEs in the West Midlands. The companies within the group; including the lead partner, Malthouse Engineering; collaborate to attract large contracts, complementing each other with varying skills and resources, providing services including steel profiling, CNC machining, presswork, welded assemblies, fabrication and powder coating amongst others. In a highly competitive global market, the ABDN wanted to ensure that they were in a position to take advantage of the available opportunities that their collaborative approach presented. They did this by drawing on support from a high-calibre graduate and university expertise through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) managed by the University of Wolverhampton. Mark Hayward, a graduate with a First Class Honours degree in Marketing Management, joined the network as a KTP Associate to develop and implement collaborative business and marketing strategies to promote the network. The resulting redesign of the ABDN website and accompanying Google Adwords campaign has generated over £750,000 of potential new business to date. Mark was also responsible for bringing the content management system for the website back ‘in-house’ enabling

the network to react quickly to change – leading to savings in both time and money. Other notable successes include a company acquisition and the formation of the UK’s sole manufacturer of log debarkers; Cundey Systems Ltd. The strength of the collaboration has not gone unrecognised – it was nominated for a Lord Stafford Award in the Open Collaboration category reaching the final stage, and was highly commended and won a CISCO award for Innovation in Digital Marketing. Business benefits The ABDN clearly demonstrates that effective collaborative working is much more than bringing together a group of companies. With the potential for greater capacity allowing for fulfilment of larger orders, a broader market offering, shared knowledge and access to greater procurement opportunities, the benefits are there for the taking with the right approach.

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge


Transatlantic partners

Stanford and Wolverhampton Universities collaborate The compact and convenient nature of mobile technology is such that cellular phones, PDAs, laptops or netbooks are everyday accoutrements for the business and domestic user alike. Many of us choose to use such devices alongside their non-portable equivalents, but not everyone has this luxury. In some parts of the world, mobile technology performs a primary, rather than supporting role. The features which make mobile technology so attractive to us, make them essential in remote parts of the world, where they can be used to improve the delivery of vital services. It’s a fact that has sparked collaboration between the University of Wolverhampton and Stanford University, one of the world’s leading research universities. Together experts from both universities are exploring opportunities for learning

offered by portable technologies, particularly in developing countries. Mobile classrooms The partnership brings together the University of Wolverhampton’s Learning Lab with the Stanford University School of Education (SUSE). The link was formed through the British Council’s PMI2 Connect Fund. The partnership will include collaborative research projects, the creation of courses using digital technology and the development of a joint Masters programme. Experts from Stanford and Wolverhampton will work on projects with Birzeit and Hebron universities, in Palestine. They hope to develop capacity in using digital technology for delivering education in difficult environments. Professor John Taxler, Director of the Learning Lab at the University of Wolverhampton, explains:

“The universities of Palestine are attempting to work in some of the most challenging situations in the world and we now have funding to work with both those of Hebron and Birzeit. We have built up a substantial record of experience using innovative technologies in areas where the environment and infrastructure present major problems and barriers”.

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

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Health and wellbeing

Fit for business Professor Laura Serrant Green, is well placed to observe the trends affecting both the health and business sectors. As Director of Research and Enterprise at the School of Health and Wellbeing, she’s witnessed the growing synergy which exists between traditional patient care and employer care. Employers are now encouraged to consider the welfare of their workforce not only in terms of their health and safety, which is a legal obligation, but also in promoting better lifestyle and wellbeing practices within the workplace. It’s a shift in emphasis that Laura partly attributes to changes that have occurred across the NHS: “In the UK, we are extremely fortunate to have the NHS as the main provider of healthcare. Increasingly though, not everything we now require in relation to

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health and wellbeing can be provided by the NHS, and the private sector will grow to fill the gap.” This is likely to result in more private and voluntary providers of healthrelated services springing up, so we can anticipate some healthy growth in the sector. For employers in general, it means taking on increasing responsibility for the health of their staff. When you consider recent statistics for work-related ill health, this seems a logical step. With so much of the working population’s time spent at work, the potential for it to impact upon physical and mental wellbeing cannot be dismissed. Taking care of business Through her role in the Centre for Health and Social Care Improvement, Laura is conscious that the input of healthcare

professionals is now being sought by companies on every aspect of business operations in order to achieve a healthier workforce and workplace. “Clients call upon our expertise around a whole range of issues within health and wellbeing which crosses education, training, consultancy, expert input into health and safety, service improvement and project management. We also have people within the School who have experience in particular sectors, so it might be around workforce development, psychological and mental health, building capacity and capability – so there are a lot of transferable skills that businesses can tap into.


Health and wellbeing

Professor Laura Serrant Green

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Health and wellbeing

“We know about sick building syndrome for instance, and we can advise about how the structure and condition of a building can impact upon the health of employees. Or we’re asked to help organisations introduce new workforce structures – which can be an anxious time for employees. Businesses have to think more carefully about the way they implement these. We can help them with process maps and different improvement tools.” A healthy outlook Laura believes that thanks largely to the effectiveness of the NHS, more employees are able to continue in work whilst suffering from a serious condition or into their old age. “The NHS is almost a victim of its own success. It’s been so good at doing its job that people live longer, and live with their conditions rather than die of them. People living with chronic illness or conditions still wish to go to work, contribute to society and continue to manage their family life” This raises a set of new challenges for employers, as they learn to support more people with health conditions to stay in work, or enter employment. The economic argument for doing so is compelling. According to a report by the cross-government initiative Health, Work and Well-being: “Employers, communities and the taxpayer all bear the costs of working-age ill-health which is estimated to run to around £100 billion every year... There is a strong moral, social and economic case for supporting disabled people and those with health conditions to work, thus enabling people to lead fulfilling working lives.* The situation is sufficiently urgent for the current government to commission an independent review into workplace sickness absence. The review will consider whether people suffering from ill health could stay in some form of work if they receive appropriate help. It’s clearly a process that employers of all sizes will need to engage with. Whilst arrangements for employees with chronic illness need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis, many companies are seizing the initiative to create a healthier working environment for all * Improving health and work: changing lives, 2008

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their staff. Schemes to prevent illness within the workplace are being embraced by employers, bringing benefits to employees through better health, as well as to employers through improved productivity and reduced sickness absence – and there are plenty of resources available to help. Lifestyle checks, free fruit, talks on alcohol, back care advice, stress awareness talks and cooking demonstrations are all activities encouraged by the British Heart Foundation, whose Health at Work programme offers online advice and resources to improve levels of organisational health and wellbeing for Britain’s working population. Visit: www. bhf.org.uk/healthatwork The Department for Work and Pensions’ Health for Work Adviceline is another channel through which small and medium sized businesses can access occupational health advice. The advisors offer guidance on keeping employees healthy and at work, and getting employees back to work as soon as possible. Tel: 0800 077 8844. Part of the cross-government Health, Work and Well-being Programme, the Workplace Well-being Tool allows businesses to assess the specific health and wellbeing issues within the organisation. Visit: www.dwp.gov.uk/ health-work-and-well-being/ourwork/workplace-well-being-tool Recovery position In response to growing interest in health and wellbeing issues, Laura believes that untapped potential in the health and wellbeing sector will be released in a more enterprising way. As the independent, voluntary and business sectors increasingly work alongside the NHS to deliver services, Laura anticipates more health professionals exploring the entrepreneurial potential of their roles. “In the UK, people haven’t really equated entrepreneurship with health and wellbeing yet. If you go to America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia – areas where healthcare roles are established degree-level professions – nurses, midwives and social workers sell their knowledge and skills and set up businesses.”

Impact of ill-health in the workplace • 1.3 million people who worked during the last year were suffering from an illness (long standing as well as new cases) they believed was caused or made worse by their current or past work. 555, 000 of these were new cases*. • The annual economic cost of ill-health in terms of working days lost and worklessness was over £100 billion – equivalent to the annual running costs of the NHS**. • The average cost of absence per employee in the UK is estimated at £692 per year and on average there are 7.4 days lost per employee per year to sickness absence***. * Health and Safety Executive, 2009/10 figures ** Improving health and work: changing lives, 2008. *** CIPD 2009

This will hopefully mean that plentiful professional expertise is available to businesses who wish to fully engage with issues of health and wellbeing at work, giving the economy a welcome boost in the process. It’s an exciting area for development which the School of Health and Wellbeing can support: “Businesses are looking for ways in times of economic downturn to cut costs and work smarter rather that harder. So they are looking for new people to link with in order to can gain different expertise and insight, and that’s where we can give benefit. From our professional point of view here, we will be working hard to ensure that emerging health and wellbeing services can deliver to the quality and expectation that people have grown to expect from the NHS.”

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge


Development

Exporting Black Country expertise For nearly 40 years, a team from the Black Country has been taking its expertise to developing countries across Africa and Asia in order to help these populations achieve their desire for peoplecentred, sustainable development. The Centre for International Development and Training (CIDT), based within the University of Wolverhampton, has earned an excellent international reputation for its activities. Amongst the many international projects it supports, CIDT is currently delivering programmes in partnership with the World Trade Organization and the British Council. Representatives from Nepal’s private sector, government representatives and NGOs recently benefited from an intensive four-day training programme supported by the Enhanced Integrated Framework for Least Developed Countries, an agency of the World Trade

Organization, to train them in essential project skills which will help them effect positive change in their regions. The trainees developed four ‘live’ projects, concentrating on either trade capacity or plant and animal health standards in order to learn how to construct robust project proposals. The training not only resulted in four viable projects – all of which will be submitted for international donor funding – but more importantly, provided skills which delegates can apply in the future for constructing other projects. The training programme will be repeated in three African countries later this year. The desire to build capacity in some of the world’s least developed countries was also a theme of CIDT’s current programme in sub-Saharan Africa. Extensive experience gained from working with, and developing enterprises in the Black Country has found new relevance in Africa’s Copperbelt Province.

CIDT training session

The University of Wolverhampton and the Copperbelt University, Zambia have just completed an 18 month project funded by the British Council. The partnership draws on the similarities between the Copperbelt Province and the Black Country conurbations – a set of cities linked by a common economic trajectory based on a historical dependence on mining and heavy industry. The project seeks to improve economic conditions by promoting economic development and strengthening entrepreneurship, imperatives which are as relevant in subSaharan African as they are to the Black Country. Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

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SPEEDing ahead

Business start-up success The Student Placements for Entrepreneurs in Education West Midlands (SPEED WM) project helps entrepreneurial students to set up their own businesses whilst they are studying. Successful candidates receive experienced mentoring support, tailored training, networking opportunities, access to incubation space and a small amount of financial support.

Peter Richards, Managing Director, Armstrong UEN Ltd.

During times of recession, among the redundancies there is often a corresponding increase in the number of new business startups, with many people turning unemployment into an opportunity to become self employed or realise a dream to start their own business. Small businesses are an essential part of the British economy – paying tax, National Insurance and VAT and contributing more than 49% of the UK turnover. 22.8 million people work in small and medium-sized firms – accounting for more than 59.8% of the private sector workforce.* The importance of small businesses on the economy should not be underestimated. There are several agencies and schemes in the West Midlands and Black Country aimed at helping young people to fulfil their business aspirations. Many provide examples of success that make welcome reading, and help inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to give running their own company a go, particularly in the region’s traditional manufacturing and engineering sectors. Encouraging this new talent to stay in the region is vital for ensuring innovation and expertise for the future.

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Graduate entrepreneur SPEEDing ahead Peter Richards, took advantage of the SPEED programme to start up his first business whilst at the University of Wolverhampton with only £1,200 in savings and a slice of his student loan. He graduated in 2009 with a BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering and is currently running Armstrong UEN Ltd, which manufactures CNC milling and cutting machines. We asked Peter about his motivation, career to date, and future plans. “Since I was small I have been interested in how things work. I was always taking things apart and putting them back together – manufacturing my own things from scratch: radio controlled cars, rockets and parts. I have always wanted to manufacture things and been fascinated about business. Working for someone else is something that I wouldn’t like to do; I will always be working for myself or for my own company creating something new.” Peter’s studies expanded upon his interest in engineering, and provided the opportunity to be part of the wider engineering community. They allowed him to gain recognition as an engineer through carrying out research projects and investigations into engineering problems. By developing his understanding of advanced manufacturing techniques

Peter was able to identify possibilities for new parts and products – an essential aspect of offering better products than the competition. Being at University also provided Peter with access to the SPEED programme. “The SPEED programme helped me realise my aspirations by giving me the knowledge, understanding, advice and confidence I needed to start my business whilst at University. The early decisions I made with my business were the right ones – such as to start a Limited Company. I received tax advice and help with employing my first employee.” “Of course there have been risks involved – to secure a contract for some engineering design work I needed to purchase some expensive engineering software and borrow a small amount of money from the bank. This took some persuading, but about six months later I had paid the money back which was a great relief.” Peter is justifiably proud of his achievements, some of which would appear quite humble – such as taking on an office, or gaining ISO 9001 accreditation for his company. However, a true entrepreneur, he continues to look to the future. “What drives me the most is that I am doing something that (although there are a lot of risks and sleepless nights) I am proud of. Creating something new and interesting, producing great innovative products, employing high numbers of people, and being a recognised brand/ company in the markets we enter continues to motivate me.” Having experienced many of the challenges that starting up a business can bring; and successfully conquered them; what advice would Peter give to fellow entrepreneurs?


SPEEDing ahead

• Create a plan – so you know exactly where you should be and what you should be doing. • Work out what your products are, who your customers are, and how you are going to get those customers to buy from you. • Learn everything possible about your business area – the more you can do this, the easier running a business will be and the more your customers will notice.

• Raise as much money as you can – and spend the money wisely. • Be cautious, but don’t be afraid to ask questions or speak up for yourself.

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

• Don’t give up if it fails or doesn’t work out as well as you had hoped: it can be very easy to lose all your money very quickly without ever really knowing why. Learn from your mistakes and move on to something better.

*Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) Statistics for the UK and Regions 2009, Oct 2010

Assembly CNC machine

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Personalised medicine

Tailor-made treatments – the future of medicine It’s fair to say that there is still a great deal of trial and error in the prescribing of modern medicine, but rapid advances in personalised medicine mean that side effects and ineffective treatments could be drastically reduced.

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Personalised medicine

Professor John Darling

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Personalised medicine

Even if a drug is effective against a certain condition in the majority of the population, there will still be some people that react differently to it with potential side effects. Many factors can influence a person’s response to a drug including genetics, environment, lifestyle and any other medication they are taking. However, with the ability to profile a patient’s genetic variation, doctors can guide the selection of drugs or treatment to minimise harmful side effects or ensure a more successful outcome. This approach can also indicate a patient’s susceptibility to certain diseases before they become manifest, allowing for preventative measures. Professor John Darling, Director of Research and Dean of the School of Applied Sciences at the University of Wolverhampton, explains: “Through screening, it is possible to discover a person’s genetic sequence and understand how they might respond to a particular drug. We’re not very far away from it being possible to conduct this kind of screening on quite a large scale and there are already companies operating in this field who are focused on developing efficient methods to bring this type of screening to a mass market. This could prove highly effective in the approach to treating many chronic diseases more effectively.” A report from the Personalized Medicine Coalition: The Case for Personalized Medicine* puts the advent of personalised medicine in context: “Since the mapping of the human genome in 2003, the pace of discovery, product development, and clinical adoption of what we know as personalized medicine has accelerated.” For the pharmaceutical industry the advances in personalised medicines are something of a revolution. With arguably the most significant investment in bringing products to market than any other industry – it’s estimated that it takes 15 years and $1 billion in development,

* May 2009, Personalized Medicine Coalition

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testing and licensing to bring a drug to market – personalised medicine brings with it significant opportunities to bring much greater efficiencies to the highly costly area of clinical trials. According to Professor Darling, the investment involved in terms of time and money to bring a drug to market could be halved by making this type of screening central to the process. The pharmaceutical industry A key area where this technology opens up new opportunities is in the treatment of orphan diseases. By definition, these are rarer conditions that are not the focus for pharmaceutical giants as there is little market opportunity. However, with the knowledge that is gained through screening, it will be possible to take a more sophisticated approach to the clinical trial process, reducing the time and investment in bringing a drug to market. This is never going to be a mass market area, so it’s most likely that it is a niche that will develop for small and medium-sized pharmaceutical businesses. Reducing NHS wastage As well as the pharmaceutical industry, there is a significant opportunity to bring cost savings and increase positive outcomes for patients in the NHS. The current reliance on ‘trial and error’ creates a lot of wastage in the system, with many patients returning to doctors several times before finding the treatment that is right for them. However, a personalised approach to medicine would reduce the margin for error, with each patient being prescribed a drug that is truly effective from the start. Darling concludes: “This degree of personalised medicine may seem a long way off, but the benefits are already being seen in practice. Genetic screening is set to be a major area of investment for the health sector over the next decade, with the potential to bring benefits to the entire population.”

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge


Product development

Rapid response Innovative product development technology can help UK manufacturers as global competition intensifies. With manufacturing ‘back on the map’ for the UK, and an increasingly competitive global manufacturing landscape, the implementation of cutting edge ‘rapid prototyping’ technology is delivering tangible results for UK manufacturers across many sectors. By circumventing traditional product development routes and enabling companies – both large and small – to develop new products and get to market without delay, it is opening up a new world of business opportunity. Despite the general air of gloom associated with the economic downturn, the UK recession and the country’s subsequent sluggish recovery, the recent impressive performance of Britain’s

manufacturing base cannot be ignored. The UK has witnessed a positive and surprising underlying strength in UK manufacturing with the sector enjoying growth of 3.8% in 2010 – significantly up on the overall economy at just 2.1%. It now contributes approximately 11% of the UK’s GDP and employs over two million people. The UK also currently occupies a global position as the sixth largest nation in terms of manufacturing output, putting us behind behemoths like the USA – but ahead of nations such as France and Canada. Both the last Labour Government and the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition administrations have encouraged a ‘re-balancing’ of the economy to move it away from an overreliance on the financial and service sectors.

Political leaders want a return to the business of ‘making things’ once more. To support this objective, UK manufacturing has, in recent times, made an important contribution to the nation’s general fiscal health through a number of consecutive months of recorded growth. Benign conditions such as the weak pound have helped, but nonetheless UK manufacturers have stepped up to the plate in the past two to three years. However, competing upon the world manufacturing stage brings with it significant challenges for UK companies. This is brought into sharp contrast if longer-term prospects are measured against those of the traditional manufacturing super-powers such as the US and Japan – in addition to the recent and formidable evolution of the so-called ‘BRIC’ countries: Brazil, Russia, India and, most powerfully of all, China.

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Product development

© Freedom of Creation. Textile 5 in 1

Because of the advancements by these nations, it is now a grim reality that the manufacturing-led growth witnessed in emerging economies means that there are many goods which the UK (as well as other large parts of Europe) will fail to ever again produce competitively. If the UK is to return once more to being the manufacturing power of old, it has to make the most of the advantages it currently holds. The West Midlands’ region is one that has long actively embraced manufacturing and has, for many decades, been at the forefront of manufacturing and engineering excellence. It is a regional hotbed of innovation. It is also home to many small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which are playing a key part in reigniting the UK’s manufacturing fires. For such companies, the clear link between investment (like countries abroad) in technology and innovative research and development solutions in order to gain a business foothold – and power growth – is well proven. This community, in particular, should be examining closely the potential for business opportunity that can only be aided by an open mind that is prepared to engage with established

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technological solutions that exist right here on its doorstep.

fused deposition modelling and Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM).

A real and tangible advantage the UK holds when looking at how it can differentiate and compete on the world manufacturing stage are the skills, expertise and knowledge already enshrined within its shores. This underpins the UK’s ability to deliver innovative technology solutions here and abroad – and the advent of rapid prototyping technology is a prime example.

Although the technology initially began with the construction of prototypes, it has been developed over recent years to the extent that complete products can be created quickly for the further research, testing and development stages needed before mass production can commence.

In essence, such technology – developed and now in use within the UK – answers an age-old conundrum for manufacturers. Namely, how can companies speed up their new product development and consequently reduce their time to market? The sooner a product can be taken through the design and development stage and into production; the sooner companies see a return on their outlay and investment. Rapid prototyping embraces a number of technologies and processes including vacuum casting, selective laser sintering,

At the University of Wolverhampton, Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) is being used extensively by businesses in many sectors for rapid prototyping and product testing. Unlike traditional manufacturing methods, ALM requires no direct human contact or any special machinery or tools. Instead, it uses 3D data to develop solid objects. The objects are developed from a very fine powder which is placed in layers. After each layer a laser melts the powder in the appropriate place, another layer of powder is added, lasered and so on until the design is complete. The final object appears through the layers of powder, ready to be dusted down, polished and put to use.


Product development

Jon Rackley, Senior Consultant from the University of Wolverhampton’s School of Technology says: “Because the rapid prototyping process is driven by the computer-generated design, this allows for changes to the original design to be easily input with any changes reflected immediately in the product prototype, rather than the traditional labour intensive methods such as lathes and milling machines.” Indeed, several variations of the same product can be created without delay to allow comparisons to be quickly made. It is already extensively used by such diverse sectors as high end fashion and motorsport, as well as for businesses that are sensitive to product development speed such as those found in the packaging, medical and automotive sectors. The UK development of rapid prototyping technology is symptomatic of the breadth of innovative thinking that currently exists within the UK’s highly-skilled engineering community. If utilised properly, such skills can help transform the UK manufacturing landscape from one populated with ‘followers’ – companies which have had

to go abroad to access the necessary expertise to bring their products to market – into one inhabited in the future by ‘leaders’ as the nation’s manufacturing base leads the way in fast response product development and product innovation. Jon Rackley added: “Rapid prototyping is destined to be a key technology of the future as increasing numbers of businesses realise the advantages inherent in being able to produce a highly accurate prototype of a proposed new product and enable them to swiftly pass through the various stages to market penetration.” As the UK sets about actively putting manufacturing back at the heart of its economic future, and manufacturing companies seek to conquer the challenges of global competition which sees new and more competitive entrants every year, employing the clear benefits of a rapid prototyping technology solution – accuracy, speed and repeatability – means that such competition can be met head on from a position of strength.

The message is clear. The UK is open for manufacturing business. Technological innovation as demonstrated by rapid prototyping is helping to lead the way and showcase British innovation at its best.

Rapid prototyping is destined to be a key technology for the future. Jon Rackley, University of Wolverhampton

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

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For more information Tel: 01902 321272 Email: enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com Web: www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

WLV KnowLEDge - Issue 02  

An informative mix of interest articles and features, written specifically for the business community.

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