Milestone 1,000 businesses assisted

A unique local scheme which puts academics into firms to help them innovate has reached a major new milestone – it has worked with 1,000 businesses in the region.

The scheme, called the West Midlands Technology Network (WMTN), consists of a specialist network of universities, including Coventry University, University of Wolverhampton, Birmingham City University and Staffordshire University. The WMTN makes valuable university resources and expertise available to local firms to assist them in innovating their products, services and business processes.

West Bromwich based Fiamma is the 1,000th company to be assisted by the WMTN. Fiamma is a family-run business that specialises in manufacturing electric domestic heating appliances. Situated in West Bromwich they have provided a range of heaters and fires to clients throughout the world for the past 50 years.

With tight competition from China at the low to mid- end range of the domestic heater market, Robert Poole, managing director of Fiamma, recognised a market opportunity for premium effect heaters. Fiamma developed a quieter, more aesthetically desirable heater range to launch into the market but needed a marketing plan and materials to fully realise the product range’s potential.

Fiamma was put in contact with the WMTN’s partner at Coventry University, the Design Institute. The marketing team worked in collaboration with Fiamma to create a bespoke marketing plan that could be put into action immediately. They also enlisted the help of the Design Institute’s design team to produce quality artwork for marketing materials detailing Fiamma’s product range.

Fiamma are now looking to develop further heater designs to supply to the premium market.

Robert Poole, managing director of Fiamma, said: ‘The insight provided by the Design Institute at Coventry University helped us to realise our product range’s full potential. The Design Institute produced an excellent marketing plan that we could easily put into action, and their quality design work has enabled us to confidently release our new product range. I would be very happy to work with them again.’

The university-business collaboration scheme, part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), is unique in both nature and results. The WMTN’s practical, hands-on approach has secured over £100m in new and protected sales, and over 2,600 new and safeguarded jobs.

Tony Robotham, WMTN Champion, said: ‘Since its formation over five years ago, the WMTN has demonstrated how important the collaboration between businesses and universities is for the future of the West Midlands region. The WMTN has helped to save businesses and change the way businesses work. Most crucially, it has enabled more firms to be true innovators, capable of creating new products, opening up new business opportunities and generating economic benefits for the entire West Midlands region.’