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Ulster University Business School (UUBS) has been awarded the Small Business Charter in recognition of its commitment to supporting small businesses, student entrepreneurship, and the local and regional economy.

The Small Business Charter Award is a national accreditation, assessed by small business leaders, to recognise business schools which demonstrate excellence in supporting the SME community, student enterprise, and the local economy. Ulster University Business School will hold the award for five years, with its Hospitality, Tourism, Food and Drink Solutions and the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre both being awarded exemplar status.  There are now 54 business schools that hold the Small Business Charter Award in the UK and Ireland.

In presenting its case for accreditation, UUBS highlighted its extensive engagement in promoting and managing a wide provision of programmes and additional support to SME owners through the work of three key outlets. The first is the Business Engagement Unit (BEU), the School’s gateway to experts, knowledge exchange projects, CPD programmes and consultancy opportunities. The second is the Economic Policy Centre, an independent agency which informs both internal and external public bodies, including government on policy formation. The third is the School’s Food and Drink Business Development Centre, designed to support the agri-food and tourism industry in Northern Ireland.

The school also emphasised its extensive participation in a wide range of knowledge exchange initiatives aimed at inspiring, nurturing, supporting, and growing small and micro businesses in Northern Ireland. These include Invest NI’s Innovation Voucher initiative, Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Programme, InterTradeIreland’s Innovation Boost programme and the European INTERREG IVA Co-Innovate programme.

UUBS has developed a number of key strategic networks at regional, national and international levels to support SME owners’ entrepreneurial learning and practice. One particularly important strategic resource for the school is its Business Advisory Forum, made up of representatives from across the SME sector to review and support the faculty leadership team within UUBS. The School maintains close links with bodies such as the Federation of Small Businesses, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and are represented by faculty on a number of local advisory and enterprise boards.

As part of both undergraduate and postgraduate study, UUBS provides practical, hands-on experience for students. Many students undertake ‘live’ enterprise projects that solve real problems faced by local SMEs; these projects are embedded in the curriculum and give learners genuine enterprise experience. Students are also supported through initiatives such as ‘UU Create’, a multi-disciplinary project in support of students working towards starting a business, and specialised projects such as ‘So She Did’, a programme focusing on women in enterprise, which saw 220 students participate.

Professor Mark Durkin, Executive Dean of Ulster University Business School said:

SMEs are the backbone of the Northern Ireland economy, representing 99% of all private sector businesses and 78% of total employment in the region. UUBS has a proven track record of supporting the SME sector through initiatives such as research projects, education and training programmes, and knowledge transfer schemes such as KTPs, and we are determined to leverage our award-winning experience to provide more businesses with the expertise and support they need to prosper and grow. This five-year accreditation award recognises the strong emphasis UUBS places on supporting local business through active regional SME engagement and how we strive to develop an entrepreneurial mindset amongst our student population.

It is a critical and anxious time for small business owners and their staff, and the Business School has a new opportunity to widen the practical support measures we can offer, where it is needed most, through the ‘Help to Grow: Management training scheme. This initiative seeks to build levels of personal confidence and competency for the leaders across all sectors of our small business economy. This will help them identify and capitalise on emerging opportunities and indeed help them navigate the prevailing uncertainty with more confidence.

We look forward to working with the Department for the Economy, Invest Northern Ireland and Queen’s Management School in the coming months to leverage the full potential of this initiative and maximise our impact for SMEs across Northern Ireland.

Anne Kiem OBE, Executive Director of the Small Business Charter, and Chief Executive of the Chartered Association of Business Schools said:

We’d like to congratulate Ulster University Business School on their Small Business Charter Award, given in recognition of their support for student entrepreneurship, small business and their local economy. It is clear that their commitment to greater entrepreneurial learning and practice is built into the very DNA of the school, and we look forward to welcoming them as one of the providers for the government’s Help to Grow: Management Course.

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