Delivered by

University of Hull

Funded until 2023 by

European Regional Development Fund

SparkFund ignites the imagination with KE Awards nomination

The hugely successful SparkFund project, led and managed by the University of Hull, has been shortlisted for the highly coveted KE Awards, an initiative organised by PraxisAuril, the UK’s world-leading professional association for Knowledge Exchange (KE) practitioners.

Shortlisted for ‘External KE Initiative of the Year’, SparkFund plays a key role in the University’s Knowledge Exchange strategy. The £15.2M ERDF funded Innovation and R&D project, which covers the Humber, York and North Yorkshire LEP areas, represents significant investment in the region’s economy. 

The project has a distinctive delivery model as it does not rely upon the academic expertise of the University of Hull and is focussed more on unlocking the breadth of innovation and R&D potential within local SMEs. This enables SparkFund to act as a conduit between beneficiary SMEs and the KE Delivery Agent that best suits the individual needs of each SME.

In short, this means that SparkFund is the mechanism for small businesses to engage with the University of Hull, but, more importantly with a broader network of KE providers and development opportunities such as Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and Research Council funding.

Energising businesses

As the project enters its fourth year of delivery, the outputs and impact on SMEs continue to go from strength to strength. These include over 400 businesses registered, 2000+ hours of support, 155 projects approved and all to a value in excess of £5.5m.

In addition, 134 new jobs have been generated, 33 IP related projects endorsed, £34M of sales forecasted, a 200 tonne reduction in carbon emissions and the icing on the cake is the impressive profitability figure of £9.2M.

With a further two years remaining on the project, these figures will continue to soar onwards and upwards and reinforce why this scale of KE activity would not have been possible without SparkFund’s unique offering.

SparkFund is not just about the numbers; it is also about the direct and measurable impact that is felt at a personal level. Captured in the following statement from Harvey Detmar of RD Biomed; ‘The grants received through the Spark Fund enabled us to perform in-depth research and development we would otherwise not have been able to do and accelerated the development of our new products at a critical stage for our business. Throughout the work program the team at SparkFund provided constructive and proactive support and demonstrated a clear understanding of the business requirements that made the whole process run like clockwork’.

Launching new innovation and initiatives

The success of SparkFund is down to a number of important factors and these include engagement through external partners, mainly the beneficiary SMEs, but also key stakeholders who refer and signpost SMEs to the programme. 

Working together, the LEPs, consultants, private providers and a broad range of companies collaborate with grant beneficiaries to deliver their approved projects. Without the positive and consistent engagement with external partners, SparkFund would not be showcasing these impressive levels of KE activity.

Dave Richard, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research & Enterprise Said ‘Knowledge Exchange is central to the University of Hull’s commitment to the regional economy.  It enhances the competitiveness and sustainability of businesses, as demonstrated by the outstanding outcomes of our SparkFund programme and its selection as a finalist in the prestigious KE awards.  SparkFund has a proven track record of delivering flexible and tailored support to small businesses to enable them to innovate, and we are very excited to see its overall impact and how we can embed this model in our ongoing KE strategy.’

Independent Awards Panel of 26 leaders from across the KE and business community volunteer their time to review and assess grant applications. With no links to the University of Hull and the SparkFund team, the panel, which operates virtually, consists of members from a wide range of sectors and backgrounds. 

You cannot start an idea without a spark

Innovation and ideas are the lifeblood of industry and SparkFund has proved that when you support and unlock the wealth of talent, aspirations, plans and R&D potential that exists throughout SMEs, amazing things happen.

The team at SparkFund know that one size does not fit all, and they have never worked to a formulaic and generic process. Instead, they support SMEs along every step of the journey and help them to shape and frame ideas and apply for the funding that brings incredible projects to life.

During the COVID 19 pandemic, the SparkFund team has been supporting SMEs to pivot their expertise and products to help combat the crisis. For example, they supported a Yorkshire gin and whisky distillery previously to switch production to hand sanitiser in response to the Covid-19 outbreak (

The winners of the KE awards will be announced at a virtual ceremony on 24th June 2020.