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CUSP II - Innovation Catalyst

Taskforce collaborations for Cumbria SMEs to develop new innovation solutions for a prosperous and sustainable future.

Cumbria Innovations Platform partner logos which include: European Regional Development Fund, Northern Powerhouse and Cumbria Innovations Platform.

About the Catalyst

This is a historic programme that was funded by ERDF between 2014 and 2020. For further information about other business development opportunities please get in touch with us.

The Innovation Catalyst is designed for influential/ambitious SME leaders interested in connecting with academic expertise and like-minded peers to address the 21st Century Big Challenges.

By creating the space to innovate and collaborate, this fully funded programme works to build resilient, sustainable innovation ecosystems in specific sectors across Cumbria. The Innovation Catalyst is a proven and powerful way of helping individual firms and regional collectives with shared issues to develop effective long-term solutions that capture greater value for them and for the region.

Over a six-month period we will facilitate a series of investigative and action-focused ‘Innovation Collaboratories’ to collectively map out your goals, challenges, and innovation needs - drawing in the right expertise at the right time for you. The aim of the Catalyst is to build an ecosystem of businesses, industry experts, academics, public sector bodies and other interested parties to solve both individual and shared challenges.

For businesses who wish to be involved, this is an ideal opportunity to tap into a broad range of innovation expertise, and to co-create the learning process so that it is fit for your purpose.

Cumbria Innovations Platform CUSP) SME workshop

Core Elements

To stimulate innovation participants will be grouped based on a shared challenge which they will address with a solution-driven, collaborative approach. As a result, programme content is emergent and ultimately shaped by you and the other business leaders in your group.

Tab Content: Catalyst Activation

The programme begins by forming the ‘Innovation Catalyst’ at a two-day, induction event designed to stimulate ideas for tackling challenges in the sector. This immersive start will develop the peer group; building trust, creating bonds and developing interaction and energy to activate ideas and commitment to tackle the challenge. The process works through mapping goals, challenges and needs. A shared commitment will be formed.

Tab Content: Innovation Collaboratories

Expertly facilitated by Lancaster University Management School, Innovation Collaborations are a solutions focused space to exchange knowledge, share expertise and resources to accelerate innovation and encourage exponential change. Opportunity to experiment with new ideas and discuss solutions to challenges with policy makers, influential business leaders and academic experts.

An expert speaker will join the group to inspire and inform on a specific topic, thereby creating a sense of urgency. This will galvanise the group to act by seeking further research information.

Tab Content: Challenge Action Groups

These break-out sessions will be formed independently by delegates in either pairs or smaller groups (accompanied by an Engagement Fellow). They will provide the group with space to actively experiment, test and learn from ideas developed during facilitated activity. This could include researching innovation barriers such as resource constraints, organisational structures, processes, or stakeholder conflicts. Findings will be shared with the wider group. This process seeks to develop insight and idea generation - accelerating innovation.

Engagement Fellows are Lancaster University students who provide insight, perspective and resource as equal members of the Catalyst taskforce. Recruited from faculties across the university, they bring diverse knowledge, expertise and ideas to the Challenge Action Groups. As representatives of the future generation of innovators, Fellows actively contribute to ideas generation and project planning, inform process through research and development, and accelerate progress through collaboration.

Tab Content: Closing Symposium

This session will reflect on the groups journey and ensure that action is planned to continue to tackle the challenges outside of the Catalyst. Regrouping and sharing of activity. By this point, the group will have developed an ecosystem of firms, industry experts, academics, support service providers and others that has the ability to solve/has solved both individual and shared challenges.

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Benefits to Business

  • To lead a sustainable revolution in your sector
  • Collaborate and engage with key stakeholders to accelerate idea creation
  • Access cutting edge research, facilities and expertise at Lancaster and partner university
  • Mobilise new ideas though collective experimentation, testing, prototyping and innovation
  • Work with like-minded business leaders to tackle key challenges in your sector
  • Develop own leadership through critical thinking, reflection, collaboration generating greater capacity and confidence
  • Future proof your business in the changing environment

This facilitated learning will be delivered through a blended approach both face-to-face and online by Lancaster University Management School and forms part of CUSP II (Cumbria Innovations Platform), a £5.7m project led by Lancaster University and in partnership with the University of Cumbria.

Embracing collaboration to catalyse innovation

A new place-based business initiative is exploring how it can use grassroots collaboration to create a new ecosystem, drive innovation and overcome the challenges facing Cumbria’s food and drink sector.

The Challenges and Opportunities

Cumbria’s globally renowned landscape and natural assets, particularly the World Heritage status of the Lake District, has helped establish a vibrant and vital tourism visitor economy and hospitality sector.

Within this context, the county has forged a strong reputation for high quality food and drink, from the seafood sector in the West and the superior agricultural produce of Eden, to the artisan producers in South Lakeland and the big food processors in Carlisle.

The county shares the broader challenges facing the industry: rising costs, post-pandemic recovery, supply chain disruption, digitalisation and skills, sustainability and changing consumer demands. But it is also primed to benefit from the opportunities emerging from social shifts, including consumer trends, and advances in technology.

As a result, Lancaster University designed and delivered an Innovation Catalyst, bringing together business leaders from the SME community, academia and like-minded peers to address these multitude of challenges and opportunities.

The Process

Having designed and developed the Innovation Catalyst concept, Lancaster University has delivered seven programmes since 2019. This programme, known as CUSP II (Cumbria Innovations Platform) cohort two, was part funded by the European Regional Development Fund and led by Lancaster University in partnership with the University of Cumbria.

The project created a task force of SMEs from the food, drink and hospitality sectors, including AJ Lakes Consultancy, Austin Temple, Catering Partnerships, Cumbria Contract Bottling Company, Fell Brewery, Ginger Bakers, John Watt Catering, Lancaster and Lancaster Ltd, Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway Company, Tailored Goat Company and Zingibear.

The six-month programme began with a two-day activation process to collectively map out the goals, challenges and innovation needs. This resulted in an ambition statement which would shape their ongoing work: to enable a diverse and innovative food and drink ecosystem in Cumbria which fosters collaboration, localism and sustainability and promotes Cumbria as a world-class example.

Meanwhile, further break-out sessions created Challenge Action Groups, smaller teams of participants paired with university students and tasked with drilling down their ideas and establishing potential innovation projects.

These included:

  • Tailored Goat, a free-range goat meat producer based in Penrith, explored creating a portal hub platform which enabled businesses to share resources to reduce costs and improve competitiveness against national brands.
  • AJ Lakes, a hospitality training consultancy based in Windermere, researched potential methods of improving existing training programs in order to attract and retain the next generation in the hospitality industry.
  • Austin Temple, owners of the 19th Century Augill Castle in Kirkby Stephen, explored ways of improving occupancy rates and reputational image.
  • John Watt Catering, tea blenders and coffee roasters in Carlisle, is aiming to develop a month-long food festival and online portal to generate online sales and interest from external markets, such as Manchester and London.
  • Catering Partnership, a commercial kitchen and laundry equipment supplier in Kendal, explored the opportunities of heat exchangers in their target sectors.
  • Fell Bars, an independent brewery and bar chain, started a project to explore how it could achieve net zero carbon emissions.
  • Lancaster and Lancaster, hospitality and tourism consultants in Broughton-In-Furness, explored ways of supporting Cumbrian businesses to develop solutions to achieve net zero, benefitting the businesses, consumers, and nature.

Over the coming months the group embarked on a series of investigative and action-focused ‘Innovation Collaboratories’. Facilitated by Lancaster University Management School and inviting contributions from external experts such as the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, Langdale Hotel, Thomas Jardine & Co, Cumbria LEP, and Westmorland Ltd, owners of Tebay services, participants were given the opportunity to exchange knowledge, share expertise and resources to accelerate solutions.

But the process had mixed results, as partners struggled to reach a consensus of how they could collaborate.

Graham Heath, Managing Director of Catering Partnership, said: “Over the course of our meetings it became clear that while our mission statement was noble and a bold vision of the future, it was also overwhelming.

“The frank discussions exposed that SMEs by nature are very protective over their ideas and relationships, and that collaboration often goes against survival instincts. Many of us felt frustrated and that the process was doomed to failure, if it were not for the intervention of Tim Bloomer from Fell Bars who refocussed the group and sparked an achievable outcome.”

The Outcome and the Future

Tim encouraged the group to build on the achievement of the Catalyst by forming a dedicated B2B forum that encouraged Cumbrian food and drink businesses to collaborate on a much smaller scale and build on successes. Rather than a blueprint, it would be a catalyst for success.

As a result, the newly formed Cumbria Food and Drink Forum (CFDF), will stage a trade event at Fell Brewery in Kendal on February 3 where it will talk about the positive outcomes of the Innovation Catalyst process and the opportunities which have emerged. Its mission statement is to foster collaboration, localism and sustainability.

Tim said: “Beneath the noise and obstacles we achieved a great deal of value as a group. Landing on a consensus of how the sector should be and what we’d like to see happening is significant, given how SMEs normally operate in silos. If you put people in our position in a room together, with some stimulus, good things will come from it.

Alison Magee-Barker, Owner of AJ Lakes, said: “This first event is an informal starting point to explore and ignite collaboration around the themes of our work; inclusivity, equality, innovation, sustainability and true localism. It is an opportunity to begin having those conversations about the problems we all have and how we can help each other. We are looking forward to it becoming a regular event of like minded businesses building a successful future for Cumbria.

“Collaboration exists already. It’s about time we started to scale it. It’s time we began openly talking about our shared problems and finding common solutions, to share the burden.”

The Innovation Catalyst has also helped the participating businesses in a variety of ways.

Fell Bars has used the Catalyst to pursue a variety of collaborations. For example, it has begun sourcing Penrith-grown barley and whey waste from local cheesemakers for its brewing process. Meanwhile, its university project has given the business a detailed roadmap to achieve net zero in its scope one and two emissions including the installation of a biogas generator to use its waste to power its brewing operations.

Ginger Bakers will be sharing the positive experience of its partnership with Growing Well, the mental health charity and organic farm. Lisa Smith, owner of Ginger Bakers, believes offering volunteering opportunities for Growing Well participants has the potential to impact the skills shortage and create new jobs.

Austin Temple’s Catalyst project has improved the way that accommodation is marketed.

Wendy Bennet, owner, said: “Using student researchers we were able to extract and compile any negative online reviews we had accumulated over the last 25 years. This was a hard read but helped identify that the reason behind customer dissatisfaction was that our hotel was being marketed incorrectly via third party websites. It was enlightening. Making those changes has seen an immediate improvement.”

AJ Lakes’ project with the university saw student researchers analyse where and why hospitality as a career choice was thriving globally. The outcome of the study is prompting changes to how AJ Lakes’ markets the sector and its training.

Catering Partnership’s project to research the potential market of heat exchanger technology in commercial kitchens resulted in its potential application in refrigeration.

For Lancaster University the process has established new partnerships with the region’s SME community and cemented previous relationships, while exposing its students to research opportunities within their specialist subjects.

Jen Melling, Project Manager at Lancaster University, who led the group through the Catalyst process said she was delighted by the outcome.

“Every Innovation Catalyst brings together a unique group of individual businesses and organisations and there is never a guaranteed outcome,” she said.

“It is testament to the determination of this dynamic group and the process the university has developed that we were able to accelerate collaboration between these Cumbrian food and drink businesses.

“By giving them access to a unique combination of expertise and skill, and reducing the risk of research and development, there have been some significant outcomes for individual businesses, new collaborations uncovered, and a determined group of SMEs who were able to unite under a shared vision of what they want to achieve. We look forward to seeing how the ecosystem develops and realises its vision.”

The Innovation Catalyst: Cumbria Innovations Platform (CUSP)

The CUSP Innovation Catalyst creates taskforce collaborations for Cumbria SMEs to develop new innovation solutions for a prosperous and sustainable innovation ecosystems in specific sectors across Cumbria.

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Discover more support

The Cumbria Innovations Platform (CUSP) is an incentive that will help Cumbria businesses to access technical and management expertise from Lancaster University and University of Cumbria to accelerate innovation in new products and services.

Costs & Eligibility

This programme is fully funded and is available to businesses which are eligible under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) criteria, as follows:

  • Based in Cumbria
  • Employ fewer than 250 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees
  • Annual turnover of less than €50 million (or the equivalent in GBP)
  • Received less than €200,000 of de minimis State Aid in the last 3 years.

Find out more about how and why Lancaster University and our funding bodies holds your information.