8 April, 2016
Nine local companies teamed up, led by Workspace Enterprises, a social enterprise agency, leading to voucher funding of £36,000.
Our Consultancy and Technical Services team helps small businesses in Northern Ireland benefit from the knowledge and expertise of our academic staff. We have a close connection with Invest NI through their Innovation Voucher programme, assisting small or medium sized businesses (SMEs) that may be in need of expert help in order to expand.
Mike McCleave, who manages the University’s participation in the Innovation Voucher programme, says: ‘The vouchers are each worth £4,000, which allows a small company to engage with a knowledge provider such as Queen’s. But now Invest NI is encouraging pooled vouchers. This involves a number of companies working together on a single project with all of them funded through the voucher system.’
One such project in 2013 was a review of energy use and sustainable energy opportunities in the parish of Ballinascreen, at Draperstown. Nine local companies teamed up, led by Workspace Enterprises, a social enterprise agency, leading to voucher funding of £36,000.
Mike McCleave also commented: ‘Through the voucher programme the University was able to arrange for a study to be commissioned from the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. The individual energy requirements of each of the companies was considered but the main focus of the research was on the potential energy mix, including energy efficiency measures and renewable energy options for the region.’
In September, the study revealed the preferred option for the future – a mixture of wind plus anaerobic digestion and biomass pyrolysis/gasification feeding a district heating system, with added value provided by biogas or liquid upgrade and use. The study said this was ‘an ideal solution to the region’s aspirations to generate both electricity and heat from renewable sources and as a potential source of vehicle fuel in the longer term’.
The companies involved are now working on how to take the results of the project to the practical application stage. Mike McCleave says, ‘This is an example of using the voucher system to its optimum advantage. The voucher is there to encourage firms which wouldn’t otherwise engage with a university. It is also an incentive for our academic staff to engage with SMEs. From our perspective, it’s a beginning. We’re supporting worthwhile enterprises but we also want to see growth in engagement, with vouchers being used in bigger projects.’
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