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Finance Minister to see how EU-funded research project is boosting business growth

Finance and Government Business Minister Jane Hutt visited North Wales on Thursday 12 February to see how an EU backed project is helping to boost business competitiveness through collaboration with Welsh universities.

Led by Bangor University, the £31m Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships (KESS) project, backed with EU funds of over £20 million, is helping Welsh businesses to work with academics and students from Welsh universities to develop new and innovative products for commercial success.

The project is helping to boost the research capacity of Welsh companies, particularly small and medium sized enterprises, by supporting them to undertake research, develop key technologies, and recruit researchers.

The scheme is also helping universities to build their research excellence by preparing and training people to become research professionals as part of a Masters or PhD qualification. Students also have the opportunity to achieve a postgraduate skills development award as part of the scheme.

Almost 400 employers have benefited from new and high-level research undertaken by graduates in key growth areas such as the digital and low carbon economy, health and bio-sciences, and advanced engineering.

The Minister met with companies which are benefiting from KESS including Astral Dynamics, an SME based in Bangor that is developing innovative apps for nurses for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, and Llanfairfechan-based Sarvari Research Trust, which undertakes research to produce food crops that are disease free, and more cost-effective and carbon friendly by reducing the need for fungicides and heated greenhouses.

During her visit to Sarvari Research Trust, the Minister was shown around the trial areas at the Trust where research is being developed that could reduce the cost and carbon footprint of potato production.

Welsh Government Finance Minister, Jane Hutt, said:

“Vital EU funds are helping to increase the numbers of excellent researchers in Wales, in turn building Wales’ research capacity in key areas to create clear and long term impact in business productivity and turnover.

“As well as assisting companies to diversify and grow, the project has also secured employment and economic benefits to the people of Wales.”

Director of Research at the Sarvari Trust, Dr David Shaw, said:

‘We are carrying out research on resistance to late-blight disease in crops by breeding hardy, low-input potatoes that resist late blight.

“Growing these will reduce the heavy pesticide load on the environment during potato production and the KESS project is supporting this research by helping us tap into the latest techniques in molecular breeding.

“Through the project, we have been able to explore certain research ideas that would not have been possible without the support provided by KESS.”

Stuart Bond, Director of Astral Dynamics, said:

“Astral Dynamics is a fast growing knowledge-based technology transformation company, but like any other SME we face real challenges of balancing delivery with the need for continued R&D.

“Working with KESS we have been able to sponsor two students on projects that deliver real R&D benefits to us, while also providing funded Masters for them. Through KESS we now better placed to address key societal challenges while also building towards real long-term employment opportunities for skilled local individuals. Not only is this a win-win for both Astral Dynamics and the Masters students, but investment in R&D is also a key part of the solution to help us all exit from today's economic crisis.”

Professor John Hughes, Vice-Chancellor of Bangor University commented:

“We are pleased to welcome the Minister to Bangor again and thank her for her support with KESS. The project has enabled Welsh Universities to work with local companies and organisations to undertake research which will directly benefit the company and bring substantial economic benefits to Wales as a result.

“The KESS initiative is one of many areas in which the University is working with the Welsh Government and Europe to bring economic benefits to the local area and to Welsh businesses.”

The Minister added:

“Further EU funds investments worth over £310 million will be invested in research and innovation in Wales so we can build on the success of projects like KESS and drive world-class research expertise that will benefit business and our communities and enhance Wales’ reputation in the world.”

Publication date: 13 February 2015