With 60% of private sector jobs provided by SMEs,* it is undeniable that small to medium sized businesses are pivotal to the growth of the economy.

Coupled with Sir Andrew Witty’s 2013 report that the support of universities can have a ‘transformative effect’ on SMEs, we feel there is a stronger case than ever for academic partnerships to deliver great benefit to small companies.

Hireserve’s own experience of collaborating with a university has been hugely positive. Our relationship with the University of Reading started in 2009, when we first embarked on the KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnership) initiative. Alongside the practical advice and guidance received from the academic team, the scheme enabled us to take on a new graduate (Anton) who has since brought great value, energy and dedication to Hireserve.

“I believe that businesses like ours simply cannot function without highly educated and skilled employees… If we can influence the types of graduates we need and encourage academia to talk with us to determine what skill set we require, that can only be a good thing for the young people moving into the world of work.”
Karen Ovenden – Co-founder and Operations Director, Hireserve

Amidst this positive landscape, Henley Business School organised a forum for local businesses to attend. The event focused on how the University of Reading, together with the Business School and Local Enterprise Partnerships, have and can continue to help local SMEs grow. Given our continued strong relationship with the university and positive experience of the KTP, we were delighted when Karen was invited to be a panellist.

Karen Ovenden speaking at Henley Business School


The event took place on Tuesday evening, opening with an engaging talk from keynote speaker and Chairman of the National Centre for Universities and Business, Richard Greenhalgh. The audience of local SMEs were eager to discover opportunities to build their business and to understand how other companies were already enjoying the benefits of academic partnership. In her talk, Karen outlined Hireserve’s experiences of the KTP, from the unwavering encouragement of the university, which ensured momentum throughout the heights of the global recession, to the credibility that working with a high-calibre establishment has since brought to Hireserve.

Tweet from the University of Reading KTP Twitter account


Karen was joined by fellow SME panellists Dan Daly, Founder and CEO of Lein Applied Diagnostics, and Paul Lindley, Founder and CEO of Ella’s Kitchen, both of whom also outlined their positive working relationships with the university.

At the end of the forum the audience was asked to participate in a poll to establish in which area SMEs would be most keen to engage with universities.

– 40% cited student internships, placements and recruitment as the mosting interesting area to them

– 25% voted for joint R&D

– 20% chose business consultancy

These results demonstrate an overwhelmingly positive attitude from SMEs towards the skills, services and support that academic institutions can offer. It’s clear that, from graduate recruitment to business development, academic partnerships offer businesses an invaluable opportunity to grow.

“Universities, as well as schools and colleges, need businesses like ours to provide stimulating, challenging and exciting roles for their students. I would love to build greater links between our businesses and academia as each of us needs the other to progress’”

 We were delighted to be a part of this local event, and encouraged by the positive response of the audience towards SMEs building relationships with academic institutions. There is great scope in terms of recruitment, nurturing young talent and business development for small and medium sized businesses – and we look forward to continuing to play a role in this.

“A very positive evening. There was great audience participation, which lead to an enthusiastic forum addressing the issues of SMEs. I was utterly delighted to be involved.”       


About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.