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Knowledge Transfer Partnerships: In Conversation with Anderton Board & Packaging

Susan Hegarty, Marketing & Communications Manager at Anderton Board & Packaging Ltd, explains how the business is accelerating growth through a transformational Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University, developed with the help of our Innovation team.

Anderton Board & Packaging is a leading independent agent, merchant and converter of board and packaging, representing some resource of the world’s top mills. The family business supplies a wide range of sectors, from furniture manufacturers to food and beverage suppliers.

While operating with a skeleton staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, senior leaders recognised that the quieter period was an opportune moment to take a step back and plan for the future. Management developed a three-year business strategy and engaged with GC Business Growth Hub for support on several different fronts – from international trade advice to digital masterclasses and leadership training.

 

However, Anderton Board’s biggest project is a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Manchester Metropolitan University, which was facilitated and developed with close support from the Innovation team and a dedicated Innovation Development Manager working in partnership with the University. With the help of an experienced academic team and a specialist graduate placed within the business, the management-focused KTP (mKTP) will facilitate a strategic and cultural transformation of the business and its management capabilities to equip it for continual and future growth.

The project is backed by a £119,732 grant from Innovate UK, with Anderton Board contributing around £60,000 over the two-year period.

What stage of the KTP are you at now?

We are currently at the outset of our work programme, having recently appointed our graduate KTP associate and had our first quarterly meeting with the academic team. The programme has a very detailed work plan behind it, so our graduate associate, Michael, will be following this structure over the coming weeks as he sets up his project team and gets to know the business.

When did you first learn about the KTP scheme?

The initial introduction came through the Hub in 2021. Our Finance Director got an invite to a webinar to find out about something called a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). The webinar provided a good example of a Management KTP (mKTP) in practice which struck a chord with me.

We’re a long-established business with a lot of employees who have been here for a number of years, and we just felt we could benefit from a fresh pair of eyes to look at how we could keep improving. It was clear that an mKTP could offer just that – some heavyweight academic support to look at best practice, explore each aspect of our business and the markets we operate in, and look at the operational side of things. We engaged with the Hub and Manchester Metropolitan to explore the opportunity further.

What was it that sealed the deal for you?

We were already in a good place because we’d recently completed a three-year plan that identified a need to change our culture and some of our processes – the improvements an mKTP could help with.

But of course, the proof is in the pudding. Our Finance Director got in touch with a couple of other businesses who had done KTPs themselves, and the MD of one kindly spoke to us about what it had done for his business. It had been so transformational for them that they were already onto their second KTP! When we saw what effect it could have, given that we already knew we needed to change, the KTP seemed the perfect vehicle.

We knew it wouldn’t be an easy undertaking. Still Dharma, the Hub’s Innovation Development Manager, was on hand to guide us through the development and bid process to help us understand what would be required step-by-step along the way.

Before we fully signed up, we also got to meet the academic team. Each academic is a specialist in their respective field, and one has 20 years’ experience in business, so we knew we had a team that was business-orientated as well as able to bring in heavy-duty academic thinking. Looking around the room at the experience and knowledge on offer made us realise that, actually, there’s nothing to lose here.

Were you worried about the cost and time implications?

From our point of view, if you look at what we get from our investment of £30,000 a year, it’s more than worth it. Ultimately, this project will facilitate business growth and operational efficiency, both of which will drive improved profitability. We also expect to benefit from R&D tax credits as well.

And yes, it may seem like a big-time commitment, but you’ve got to invest time if you’re going to improve. Many SMEs are very busy in the day-to-day job of firefighting, but sometimes you need to step back and look at new things. The mKTP will allow the business to benefit from the current best practice and knowledge gained from the academic team, which will translate into direct business benefits.

Have there been any challenges along the way?

Finding the right candidate for our KTP associate was a bit of a challenge. For a business that’s not done a KTP before, we needed to make sure we appointed the right person. We’re an SME with 34 staff, so whoever joins the business needs to fit really well with the team.

It took time, but with the support of the academic team, we appointed a great graduate, Michael, who has come to us off the back of another KTP and has settled in well.

Let’s fast-forward two years. How different will Anderton look once the KTP has finished?

From an operations perspective, our flow of data should be much improved, such that we can capture more of our production output – which is key for us. I also expect us to know far more about our markets than we already do.

There will also be a change in mindset. We should find that, with the benefit of academic support, everyone should see that improved efficiency improves their job by allowing them to focus more on value-added activities.
To a certain extent, I also expect the unexpected. Even though we have a detailed work programme, we may end up looking at other things we could do and different markets we could move into.

 

Do you have any advice for businesses considering a KTP?

The main thing we’d recommend is to take references – speak to people who’ve done it before and find out what their experiences were.

The support available – not just the funding but the actual academic support a KTP provides – brings in new ideas and effectively opens your business up in a way that can only benefit everyone.

How has the Hub’s Innovation support helped along the way?

We certainly wouldn’t have ended up here if it wasn’t for that first touch point with the Hub. Everyone I’ve met has been very open, happy to share ideas and willing to offer their support – the KTP included.

Dharma’s role as Innovation Development Manager, working closely with the academic team and ourselves to get the project off the ground and support its development, was particularly valuable. The Innovation team also carried out some helpful market research and competitor pricing analysis which we can use to inform the business case for our application. Lots of the wider support we’ve been able to access also dovetails nicely with our KTP. For example, a digital transformation workshop with Made Smarter has helped us review our processes and understand opportunities to capture data digitally. All the courses and workshops available through Skills for Growth are helping with our cultural change. All of this fits well with the KTP and where we’re headed.

It's an exciting time for the business, and the Hub continues to be involved in supporting us on the journey.


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