LCR4 START, the part European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funded business support programme is designed to provide digitalisation support to SMEs in the Liverpool City Region, has engaged with more than 70 businesses in its first year.
Since launching in late 2019, the £3.9m LCR4 START project, which is led by the University of Liverpool’s Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) and delivered in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University, Science and Technology Facilities Council and the Growth Platform, has helped a range of businesses unlock the business benefits of digital technologies through the development of practical digital strategies.
The fully-funded business support is available to qualifying SMEs operating in any industry sector, with the VEC and its partners offering practical support to enable them to identify opportunities to develop and deploy digital technologies to unlock business gains, growth and savings and, if appropriate, further funding. And at a time when digital transformation was needed more than ever, the programme has been in demand.
The University of Liverpool’s Digital Innovation team recently published a Digital Recovery Report and found that 76% of North West businesses they engaged with have adopted digital technologies as a result of the global pandemic, and a third of these believe digital adoption has enabled them to save costs. The pandemic has increased the rate of digital adoption with 79% of businesses admitting to increasing investment in digital technology due to COVID-19. However, one in four businesses cites a lack of knowledge about which technology to invest in as the main barrier to adoption.
Since its launch, LCR4 START has delivered diagnostic and brokerage support to 71 firms and been involved in the creation of eleven start-ups.
One of those firms supported is Wirral based Sandstone Dental Practise, who like many healthcare businesses, have been affected by lockdown laws and social distance regulations during the pandemic. Through engagement with the LCR4 START team, they were able to develop a digital strategy for the set-up of their “Digital Centre of Excellence”, including contactless visits, focusing on which technologies would best support the centre, including additive manufacturing, Internet of Things, cloud computing and systems integration – creating a safe and productive working environment to benefit both patients and staff.
The LCR4 START project has so far supported in generating seven new jobs within businesses across the Liverpool City Region.
The project has been involved in the creation and development of 24 new products, processes or services to market which will enhance these company’s competitiveness, which plays a significant role for the region as COVID-19 has negatively impacted the growing confidence of many companies.
One of the businesses that have benefitted from LCR4 START support is Machfab Engineering Ltd, a Birkenhead-based engineering services company, which received digital strategy support in the integration of sensor technology and how they collect valuable data, which enabled the company to increase efficiency and connectivity across the teams whilst strengthening their position within their supply chain.
Machfab Engineering Managing Director, Ian Hazlehurst, said:
“My strategic vision for the company has changed dramatically since I engaged with LCR4 START, having realised the benefits of what digital technology could deliver to our business. We will now be able to enter new markets and build our reputation in the local area as a leading engineering company, investing in local talent and providing opportunities for our workforce to learn new skills.”
The support provided by LCR4 START has been wide-reaching including a plastic recycling company, steel engineers, an innovative theatre, energy generation, construction, water management, architecture and even product development for a new children’s stroller. Of the businesses who have engaged with the project so far, the team have been supporting across a range of industries with 22% of companies sitting in the manufacturing sector, 22% from professional services and 11% in information and communication services. Businesses in education, construction, wholesale and retail, mining and human health and social care activities have also benefitted from LCR4 START support.
Simon Reid, Head of Sectors at Growth Platform said:
“It has undoubtedly been a difficult period for many businesses across the region with unexpected changes and pressures. This has led to a rapid increase in the need for digitalisation and changing the ways in which businesses operate day-to-day. The LCR4 START project has really helped companies in assessing their digital readiness levels, helping them to prepare for new ways of working and supporting teams for effective digital adoption.
This support will ensure that the Liverpool City Region continues to grow through effective digitalisation, improving on digital skills for the city and supporting job opportunities across the region.”
Liverpool John Moores University were the LCR4 START delivery partners in the Machfab Engineering and Sandstone Dental Practice support.