We’re helping a Sheffield SME expand their product range and reach new markets

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We’re helping a Sheffield SME expand their product range and reach new markets

Sheffield company Lightmain design, manufacture and install sports play and leisure facilities that help children and young people exercise, play and learn.

They are working with our Lab4Living research centre on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) project to create a new kind of play equipment which teaches children about the environment while they play.

We spoke to the company’s chairman Paul Collings about how the KTP was set up, and why it’s right for SMEs like his.

How did you first hear about Knowledge Transfer Partnerships?

I’ve done some KTPs in the past — one in a past company in Leeds and two with one of my other companies, Timberplay. It worked well in the past so I was open to doing another one.

How did this particular project come about?

We were approached by Sheffield Hallam University. Their researchers have developed this idea for Playponics, a new kind of play equipment, and they needed a commercial partner to develop it.

We suggested using a KTP as a way of embedding it into the business, with a KTP associate working on the project in our company.

I was keen to take part as it’s a good concept. We were also in need of some new design capability for the business as one of our employees is about to retire.

How did you find the process of applying for funding?

The staff at Sheffield Hallam were really helpful. These applications can be quite complex, but Sheffield Hallam did all the legwork for us and were brilliant. In terms of the support we received, I couldn’t fault it.

We were successful in our application and we have just hired our associate, who is fitting in well.

What impact are you hoping to achieve from this KTP?

I'm excited about the Playponics idea. It teaches children how to use hydroponic concepts to grow food where space is restricted. It's a very interesting concept, and I’m looking forward to seeing whether there's a commercial appetite for it.

In the UK it’s mainly about embedding learning through play, but there is also a lot of interest in India where it could also be used as a way of growing food, so there are multiple potential benefits from it.

Would you recommend KTPs at Sheffield Hallam to other SMEs?

Yes. It’s a very good way of getting knowledge out of universities and into the commercial world. It's been incredibly successful for my businesses in the past.

Sheffield Hallam are particularly good to work with. They are used to engaging with local companies. It's ok having all this knowledge, but if it’s going to be useful it needs to be shared with the wider world, and they understand that.

Is there any advice you’d give to SMEs thinking of starting a KTP?

I'd highly recommend it. It tends to attract particularly good, bright candidates, and if you keep hold of them you get a good member of staff beyond the lifespan of the project.

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