Sussex Innovation celebrates success of Catalyst work placement scheme

The Catalyst scheme, now entering its fourth year, is an initiative supported by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). It provides a fully paid year-long placement to a number of Sussex students and recent graduates, who work alongside senior staff at the Sussex Innovation Centre. Catalyst team members are trained and supported to deliver a range of business development projects for local start-ups and SMEs.

In annual reports to HEFCE, Sussex Innovation measures the success of the scheme in terms of additional job creation, revenue generation, and investment secured by participating companies. By all of these metrics, 2015-16 was demonstrably a record year. More than 60 new jobs and 20 new industry placements for students were created, while cumulative revenues reached more than double the £1.5m target for the year.

“It’s been great to see such an acceleration in the impact we’ve had over the last year,” said Lucy Paine, Catalyst Programme Manager. “Based on client feedback, we had a feeling that things had been going well. Due to the types of early-stage business that we often work with, we’ve always felt that it would take a year or two for real economic growth to arrive as a result of our work. Now that we’ve been up and running for more than three years, the numbers are really vindicating that.”

To date, the Catalyst team have worked on more than 300 projects for more than 100 clients from across Sussex, as well as in Croydon, home to another Sussex Innovation site.

“We launched the Catalyst scheme to address two key problems that we recognised from our role as a bridge between academia and business,” said Mike Herd, Executive Director of Sussex Innovation. “Firstly, that there weren’t enough opportunities out there for students looking for real, meaningful work. Secondly, that early-stage companies – who can in principle benefit the most from work placements – simply don’t have the time or resource to find, train and oversee these talented and willing young people.

“By taking that burden of training and support off their hands and bringing it into our own team, we ensure that every Catalyst project has a real strategic purpose to the business, and a tangible outcome. In addition to that, companies only take on the Catalyst team member for the amount of time that they need to carry out these defined projects, so the student gets a real experience of working with a range of different, innovative and exciting young businesses.”

Case Studies:

Catalyst projects are as varied as the companies that the team has worked with, and range from delivering market insight and customer engagement, to social media management and communications activity. Below are three companies’ stories of working with Catalyst.

InCrowd: two team members hired and counting for growing sports marketing business

InCrowd are a sports marketing business underpinned by revolutionary mobile technology. They have worked with Catalyst over a number of years, a partnership that has resulted in 2 full-time employees joining them after completing their year with the programme.

The initial support from Charlie focused on data and account management, before he joined the rapidly expanding company as their Account Manager. In 2016, Charlie used Catalyst to support him in his new role, with Ella recently joining him at InCrowd – one of 16 new full-time jobs created as the business quadrupled in size this year.

“Having been involved in the Catalyst Programme myself, I knew what the team could offer, and had no hesitation in using them. Ella has gone on to become the 2nd full time employee from Catalyst.” – Charlie Gorton, Account Manager (Catalyst Graduate)

Thanksbox: employee engagement start-up reaps benefits of market research

Thanksbox have developed a suite of workplace communication tools designed to nurture a positive culture of employee engagement. The company brought in Catalyst to conduct insight interviews, helping them to better understand large organisations’ current practices in this area.

Mark, who started the research, became an employee of Thanksbox after finishing his placement with Catalyst, and now works as an Insight Analyst with responsibilities in analytics and business development. Team member Callum has continued the research started by Mark, which now consists of 70 in-depth interviews and has resulted in 65 introductions to interested organisations.

“The Catalyst scheme offers a team of exceptional talent, often becoming an extension of your own – we got them involved in a large-scale market insights project! It also acts as a great, extended interview process to help you hire the very best graduates.” – Luke Fisher, CEO

Uniqodo: technology innovators expecting big things in 2017

Uniqodo provide e-commerce merchants with unique voucher codes enabling them to run profitable, secure promotional campaigns. Initially Petra worked with them to develop and deliver two email marketing campaigns. The first was aimed at existing customers, inspiring them to use more of the available features. The second was designed to engage new customers, their partner networks and their agencies, encouraging them to start using Uniqodo's services.

The role expanded into creating additional digital content to include blog posts and social media messages, all designed to motivate the reader to use Uniqodo's marketing technology. Uniqodo were recently awarded Tech Innovation of the Year at the Croydon Business Excellence Awards, and are set to expand in 2017.

“As a start-up, it’s imperative to have a strategic marketing plan to help us proactively reach out into the market. Delivering against that plan entails a lot of practical day-to-day work, which we have only been only able to resource through Sussex Innovation. It’s been great having Petra working with us in the office each week, she’s capable and enthusiastic and immediately became one of the team. We know we can trust and rely on her to complete all the tasks that need doing, keeping us on track and helping us achieve our business goals.” - David Hall, Co-Founder

As well as a stimulating job role, all Catalyst team members are provided with a number of personal development and training opportunities throughout the year. With the scheme now entering its final year of HEFCE funding, Sussex Innovation is seeking commercial sponsorship in order to continue offering these sessions. To find out more about becoming a sponsor, contact Lucy Paine.

If your business is interested in taking on a Catalyst team member, visit the team's website to find out more.