A recent report from the House of Lords has highlighted a “collapse” in construction industry participation by SMEs. I-Construct offers a range of opportunities to help businesses in the sector – and its supply chain – to grow
To meet the government’s ambitious targets to tackle the housing crisis, the involvement of small and medium-sized construction businesses is critical. The House of Lords Built Environment Committee recently published a report, which found that the “role of SMEs in the housebuilding industry has collapsed”. The report recommends the government supports SME construction businesses by “reducing planning risk, making more small sites available, and increasing access to finance”.
It is also essential that the construction industry finds new ways to accelerate the delivery of building and infrastructure projects, while maintaining high standards. Add to this the uncertainty about the long-term impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit, there has clearly never been a more important time for companies (particularly SMEs) to innovate and reach out to others for support.
The I-Construct programme
The I-Construct programme includes grant funding, business support and access to opportunities via its business network. What’s more, if your business is eligible, membership is free as the programme is funded by the European Regional Development Fund. Grant funding of £1,000 to £20,000* is available to part-fund the development or launch of a new product or service to the company as well as to the market.
Alternatively, construction businesses can receive 100% free support through the I-Construct mentoring or market readiness schemes or the enterprise readiness scheme, which will be launching in 2022.
You can work 1:1 with a mentor as the I-Construct mentoring scheme consists of up to nine hours of 1:1 mentoring and expert advice (worth up to £1,200) provided to eligible SMEs completely free. The mentors are industry experts with director-level experience in the construction sector or supply chain and they are passionate about using their knowledge to help SMEs develop and grow.
Launching this month is the I-Construct market readiness programme in association with the Building Research Establishment (BRE). This programme will help 20 businesses to bring their new products or services to market. This scheme is suitable for start-ups in their first year of operation or established SMEs with new-to-market products at pre-launch or recently launched stage.
If you’re an entrepreneur or inventor, the I-Construct enterprise readiness scheme could help. Designed to work with pre-start-ups, the programme will provide subject experts who will give 12 hours of group support to help you understand your potential customers and competitors. Then they will work with you to put together a business plan.
Not sure what you might be eligible for? I-Construct’s team is here to make it easy to apply for grants and access support. But that’s not all – network members enjoy a programme of free events. Events are held online or at the new £2.3m Innovation Hub in Braintree, Essex. The team hosts popular monthly networking events, product launches and talks by experts on relevant topics. Members can hear about offsite construction, renewable energy, zero-carbon construction, BIM software and more.
The I-Construct programme is managed by the Haven Gateway Partnership. Project partners include Braintree District Council, BRE (Building Research Establishment), Colchester Institute and Daedalus Environmental.
George Kieffer, chairman of the Haven Gateway Partnership, says: “The construction industry is vital to our economy and quality of life and we have lost too many SME builders due to labour shortages, the financial crisis and a lack of access to new technology. We have been guided by industry leaders who fully recognise that it is time for the sector to modernise in order to survive. I-Construct will not only safeguard existing jobs in the construction industry, but it will also help create new jobs and solve some of the challenges facing businesses within that industry.”
To find out if you or your business are eligible contact the team. Details can be found at www.i-construct.org.uk
*Requires the company to provide 70% of the funding for a project, with 30% being supported through the grant, which does not need to be repaid.
Haven Gateway Partnership