Reflections on SME funding

As part of our funding agreements in recent years we’ve been trying to diversify our funding streams for I’m an Engineer and I’m a Scientist. Inevitably one suggestion for additional funding has been to approach companies employing engineers and scientists.

The obvious first step was to approach those companies known to support STEM engagement. BP, Rolls-Royce, BAe, GSK, Pfizer, Thales etc. It wasn’t simple. Finding the right people at the right time wasn’t simple. Creating a proposition that worked for them wasn’t simple.

It was put to us that these companies are constantly being asked to support projects and that we may have more success with SMEs.

So we picked a few upcoming zones (Health, Space, Production and Energy) and set a researcher a task of finding 100 SME’s in each field where the CEO had given their contact details on their website. We figured that if they did that they were more likely to be interested in engagement and online engagement in particular.

We sent a letter and some flyers to each CEO asking them to encourage engineers to sign up. The response rate was not spectacular at about 5 engineer signups per 200 letters sent.

The quality however was good. The engineers participated fully and had a variety of experience. But participation was only part of the conversation. We wanted to turn participation into funding. Next step was to talk to a couple of decision makers in a couple of the companies that had provided engineers.

Both were CEO’s who were very, very supportive of STEM education and outreach. They give up their own time for it and encourage their employees to do the same. Both had companies which relied on brilliant cutting-edge engineering to be a success. They were both research intensive companies in a start-up phase. But being a start-up meant that there was no spare cash in the company and investors wouldn’t allow discretionary spend on activities like outreach.

And there lies the rub.

The companies that rely most on cutting-edge research and be supportive of outreach activity are more likely to be unable to fund outreach activities because of unprofitable stage of their corporate lifecycle. It’s only once they become less research intensive that they are able to afford to financially support these types of activities.

Obviously we’re dealing with a tiny sample and the support shown by them means we will continue to approach SME’s for engineers and continue to sound out funding opportunities. But it isn’t going to be a simple solution for funding diversification in the near future.

 

Posted on January 13, 2016 by ModShane in Evaluation. Leave a comment.

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