VEC to deliver £5.1m innovation support programme for city region’s SMEs

Published on


A new partnership between the University of Liverpool’s VEC (Virtual Engineering Centre), Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and Edge Hill University has launched to support business innovation across the Liverpool City Region (LCR).

The new £5.1m Horizons programme, funded by the Liverpool City Region’s £44m UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) allocation, will support more than 100 SMEs in its pilot phase. The partnership aims to deliver industry-leading innovations across six boroughs, providing the expertise, facilities, and funding businesses need to drive innovation.

Launched by Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotherham, Horizons is the first innovation support programme in the city region funded by the UKSPF and will prioritise supporting businesses providing sustainable practices and technologies.

SMEs accessing the support, via a streamlined paperless process, can also apply for capital grant funding to further accelerate innovation and drive long-term success across communities and businesses, and support the upskilling of their people.

Since 2016, the VEC, led projects that have helped organisations across the Liverpool City Region contribute more than £121 million GVA to the local economy, creating more than 1,400 jobs across multiple businesses.

The Horizons programme, which was developed following consultation with SMEs, and in partnership with the Combined Authority and the city’s Universities, will deliver on Mayor Rotheram’s ambitions to turn the Liverpool City Region into the UK’s next science and innovation superpower.

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said: “SMEs really are the cornerstone of our business community. Together, they account for a massive 99% of all businesses in our region and have a crucial role to play in helping to diversify our economy. Fortunately for us, we’re home to some of the country’s leading universities, who possess the expertise and world-class facilities that can really help our SMEs to unleash their full potential.

“Horizon is the first innovation support programme of its kind that directly connects our region’s SMEs to our world leading institutions. It’s my hope that this partnership will help more entrepreneurs and innovators to achieve their ambitions and, more crucially, help us to catapult our area to the forefront of UK science and innovation.”

Andrew Borland, Chief Innovation Officer at the VEC, said: “Horizons’ mission is simple, to make SMEs in the region the most competitive and productive in the UK by helping them innovate. Whether innovation means creating a radically disruptive new product or service or the introduction of new processes, technologies, or systems to boost efficiencies.

“At a time of global economic headwinds and pressing decarbonisation and net zero targets, Horizons will support SMEs to tackle these challenges head-on through R&D support and access to world-leading experts. We’re encouraging all ambitious SMEs across the region to participate and get in touch to see how Horizons can support them.”

Professor Andrew Levers, Executive Director of the Institute of Digital Engineering and Autonomous Systems (IDEAS) reflects on the impact of the project; “The University of Liverpool has set out a clear and compelling vision for regional impact under our Liverpool 2031 strategy.

"Horizons will help deliver our vision to drive prosperity in the city region by bringing the benefit of our ground-breaking research to local businesses and helping to ensure that the next generation of world-changing innovation is translated from research to industry by local SMEs.

"We are determined to continue playing our part to drive a culture of ambition, inclusive collaboration and responsible innovation that bridges the academic and business communities, enabling us to break new ground and make a positive impact in the communities we serve.”

Janice Mears, Head of Business Growth at Liverpool City Region Growth Company further added:   “Central to our work at Growth Platform is the implementation and future development of business strategies across the region – and that is why we are thrilled to be a part of Horizons. This programme will not only support our local businesses to innovate and grow but will help strengthen our offering and place Liverpool City Region at the heart of innovation.”

To find out more about Horizons and to apply for support, visit: or email

Image from left to right: Janice Mears, Growth Platform, Anthony Walker, LJMU, Dr Jo Leek, CA, Steve Rotheram, Andrew Borland, VEC, Sara Davies, CA, Michael Banford, Edge Hill University.