Life in the fishbowl - expert online mentoring for local businesses

23 Nov 2012 14:01:05.637


A new online service is being launched by The University of Nottingham, which will provide small and medium sized businesses with the advice and information that they need in order to develop, innovate and grow.

The Ingenuity Knowledge Hub, which is being launched at The University of Nottingham on Wednesday 28th November, will act as an online business engagement community. It will enable local businesses to share ideas, float new business opportunities and collaborations and access targeted news and information.

The Knowledge Hub will also chart the real-life stories of small businesses in the East Midlands, offering an insight into the challenges facing new ventures during those vital early days.

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As the first part of the development of the hub, three businesses have agreed to be mentored online by experts from industry and the University, and as such, will be living in a virtual ‘fishbowl’ where they will be able to post real-time updates via social media and receive advice from the panel of mentors who will help to put them on the path to success.

Taking part in the online ‘fishbowl’ will be the software design company Pro-Genitor Solutions which will be looking for guidance on bringing a new product to market; sole trader Leonie Winson, owner of the Nottingham-based web design firm Line and Form, whose new challenge is moving from being a freelancer to building business; and Bac-In, a social enterprise offering support, guidance and education for the African/Caribbean, South Asian and dual heritage communities, particularly in overcoming substance misuse, which would like to market itself and its activities more effectively.

Mike Carr, Director of Business Engagement and Innovation Services at The University of Nottingham, said: “The University, along with other partners, has a vitally important role to play in helping local businesses to innovate and grow. We want to build a community of small and mid-sized businesses that want to work alongside us to get to know what we can offer. 

“Engaging with a large body of local businesses is of great value to many areas of the University, for everything from research and knowledge partnerships to placements and internship opportunities for our students.”

Steve Upcraft, Manager of Ingenuity, the University’s local business network, added: “This new online venture builds on groundwork laid by Ingenuity, the University’s business engagement network, and responds to the needs of our SMEs contacts, who say that social media sites are not always their preferred option. In particular, it is aimed at engaging with ‘hard to reach’ groups such as social enterprises, sole traders, new enterprises and graduates.”

The ‘fish’ will be using social media such as Twitter and blogging to document their experiences and will be offered guidance from a panel of experts made up from regional business leaders and successful entrepreneurs. Followers of the Ingenuity Knowledge Hub will be able to watch the progress of the ‘fishbowl’ in real-time and use suggested solutions by the experts as a basis for influencing their own business planning.

Bac-In became aware of the Ingenuity Knowledge Hub through its previous work with the University’s Community Partnerships team and jumped at the chance to raise its profile by agreeing to feature in the ‘fishbowl’.

Team leader David Jammeh said: “We had been exploring whether there was any opportunity for collaboration with the University, either through work placements for students or knowledge transfer when we heard about this opportunity.

“From our perspective it seemed an ideal way to increase our exposure to a wider audience and showcase what we do as a social enterprise. We are hoping to benefit from the expertise available and to learn new skills, for example through the use of social media, which we have been considering for some time but will take us out of our comfort zone.”

Darren Gent, Business Development Director at ProGenitor said they would be leveraging social media as part of their marketing strategy.

He added: “As a team of seasoned and experienced engineers rather than sales and marketing professionals, we are looking to the fishbowl community to help develop and refine our marketing message.”

Leonie Winson at Line and Form said that it was the opportunity to reach out to a much wider community that attracted her to the fishbowl project.

“Like many other solo entrepreneurs I have to wear all the many hats by myself to keep my business running.  The fishbowl project gives me a chance to break out of that mould, “ she said. “I’m looking forward to getting advice from the experts, and connecting with the wider local business community, through social media and my blogs. If I publically set myself goals, I’m going to have to ensure I get results. I’m sure it will bring new opportunities and help me explore areas that I would not look at on my own.”

The ‘Discover’ section of the Ingenuity Knowledge Hub will offer a route to tapping into University resources, from placements to research expertise. It will use an ‘intelligent semantic engine’, designed by a team at The University of Derby, which will drill for ‘hard to find’ and targeted content from external web and news sites. The interactive nature of the search engine means that over time it will provide content that is increasingly more personalised and users will be able to provide feedback on the type of resources they would like to receive.

The project has been funded by JISC, the UK’s expert on information and digital technologies for education and research, under its Business and Community Engagement: Access to Resources programme.

It is also endorsed by Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce and Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

To become a part of the Ingenuity Knowledge Hub, visit

Story credits

More information is available from Steve Upcraft on +44 (0)115 846 6952,

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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