Free support offered to SMEs to help innovate and redress supply chain shocks

woman carrying a crate in a food bank

A new Accelerator run by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) is offering free support to help SMEs rapidly innovate during the Covid-19 crisis.

SMEs based in the Greater Cambridgeshire and Greater Peterborough area will be eligible for support to enable them to find new innovative ways to operate, rewire supply chains, and ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable are met.

Support will be delivered through a combination of one-to-one business support, capacity building and mentoring, as well as convening partnerships, and drawing on the collective knowledge of CISL’s global network to support small businesses via webinars tailored to local business needs.

Eithne George, Programme Director for the CISL Accelerator said: “Small businesses are now having to adapt to major challenges which are unprecedented, varied and complex. Many have been forced to rethink their entire business model if they are to keep operating at all, whilst others, particularly in the food retail sector have been overwhelmed with a sudden surge in demand for services.

"Local businesses are recognising the need for greater interdependence if they are to survive and new opportunities will open up in the future for those most able to respond creatively. We are introducing this package of support to help local businesses navigate this process through leveraging the knowledge and expertise of our global business network.”

The effects of the present health emergency have impacted the fundamentals of society and business as we know it, creating major challenges for small businesses and disruption to supply chains. The business support programme will have two themes, the first aimed at established businesses and the second at new innovators and entrepreneurs:

Business resilience for existing businesses: how small businesses, particularly in the food retail sector, can adapt during the crisis, and recover rapidly in its wake. The programme will explore approaches that enable business to be more robust, developing ability to cope with future shocks, from pandemics, to extreme weather, such as the floods experienced across the UK only weeks before this.

Innovation Call: A cross-sector call for new and innovative business ideas in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, which will address the multiple issues that have so far arisen from the crisis. The programme offers an online Accelerator package over eight weeks to assist in the development of these ideas. This could range from health-tech, to ed-tech or supply chain innovation, as well as social innovations that enable businesses, communities and our public services respond better to future crises. 

Dame Polly Courtice, Director of CISL said: "The disruption we are currently experiencing highlights more than ever that our traditional business models, supply chains and economic systems are far from resilient, and are highly vulnerable to sudden shocks. We hope that by mobilising our expertise, and that of CISL’s global network of leaders and sustainability practitioners, we can offer the tools, knowledge and support to help small businesses survive this critical period and emerge stronger and more productive in future."

The CISL Accelerator is working with the Cambridge Organic Food Company (COFCO), a local organic food delivery scheme that has been operating for 20 years and has experienced a dramatic increase in demand since the beginning of March. 

Duncan Catchpole, Founder and Managing Director of COFCO said:“The coronavirus has changed the game for us. We are stretched to capacity and rapidly taking on new staff. We are considering expanding our operations further to be able to help during the crisis. We have created a network of community angels, to ensure our fresh produce and groceries reach those in greatest need. Working with other local businesses like Fitzbillies and Hot Numbers, we are finding ways to ensure bread and other groceries will reach our customers and help keep other local businesses alive during the crisis. Working with CISL’s Accelerator is helping us to adapt to these new circumstances, which we are finding invaluable.”

The CISL Accelerator, which is part funded by the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund, launched in November 2019 to help SMEs, start ups and entrepreneurs accelerate innovative solutions to sustainability challenges, and build a new wave of adaptive, responsive and future-fit business.

To read more information, click here.

The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

University of Cambridge (