Professional Services Innovation Research Fund

The University of Birmingham and Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership have joined forces to launch an Innovation Research Pilot Fund.

We are seeking innovative, small-scale projects that apply new techniques and ideas to improving modern professional services. These rapid turnaround projects should provide new insights and have clear pathways for growth after the pilot phase.

Your project might explore data use and sharing, and how this can inform new investments; new ways of identifying and addressing crucial skills gaps; innovative post-Covid-19 recovery strategies; or an entirely new approach to solving a prevailing sector challenge. Boldness and imagination are key!  The University of Birmingham Business Engagement team will help interested businesses to form academic links in preparation of an application, where needed.

If you have an idea that would benefit from up to £4,000 seed-corn funding and engagement with stakeholders across academia, industry, and policy, we are interested in hearing from you.

Applications are open for twelve months from 8 July 2021. All projects will need to be completed within the year, with aggregate outputs informing how best to drive outcomes for successful innovation in the sector and region. Findings from the successful pilot programmes will be compiled into a white paper highlighting successes and providing case studies to be used as evidence in development of future regional innovation deals.

Tim Pile, Chair of GBSLEP comments ’We are delighted to be working with the University of Birmingham to launch this pilot. GBSLEP’s collaboration with one of the region’s leading knowledge base reflects our unique structure of bringing together the academic sector, local government and businesses to create targeted projects that will drive forwards inclusive economic growth. This fund will help stimulate closer working to support innovation within our region’s largest sector - Business Professional and Financial Services. Crucially, by investing in innovation we are contributing to the attractiveness of the West Midlands as a global centre for next generation services, now and in the future."

Tony Randle, Senior Partner at Shoosmiths and LawTech lead for WM SuperTech, adds: “Shoosmiths and the University of Birmingham have recently embarked on an ambitious project with AI technology specialist, ThoughtRiver. The initial outcomes from the proof of concept, focusing on AI in legal processes, demonstrated significant time savings and risk mitigation benefits. This case study is a prime example of how business and academia can work together to solve problems more effectively. Now, with Shoosmiths as a founding supporter of SuperTech – the first professional services technology (ProfTech) supercluster in the UK – we hope this fund drives similar technology-led productivity gains within BPFS organisations, as well as across service and process development.”

Simon Collinson, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Regional Engagement at the University of Birmingham, comments: “This fund demonstrates how we are strengthening the University’s civic role in the region, focusing on innovative approaches to accelerate the region’s economic growth in an inclusive way. As the largest contributor to jobs and GVA in the region, the BPFS sector is particularly important. Our city centre presence, The Exchange, enables us to participate even more effectively at the heart of the city-region innovation ecosystem.”

Eligible Projects

To be considered for funding, projects should:

  • Clearly demonstrate alignment with the West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy, and describe how the project will benefit not only your primary sector(s) but Birmingham and the surrounding region as a whole. 
  • Be led by a team spanning industry and academia as a minimum, and preferably with policy representatives. Projects that include PhD students are also encouraged.
  • Be clearly aligned with modern professional services, e.g. accountancy, finance, legal services, insurance, real estate, etc. Applications should outline how the project will benefit the chosen sector(s) of focus.
  • Demonstrate innovation at the core of the project, and clearly articulate how the funding will enable progress.
  • Include costs for research activities only (time will not be funded).
  • Not exceed £4,000 in value or be expected to take longer than 3-6 months to deliver.


Funded project teams must produce a brief report at the end of the project outlining the project, its findings and proposed routes to growth/implementation. Reports must be submitted no later than two months after project completion.

How to apply

Applications should be submitted using the online form below. Applications will be reviewed by a panel which will aim to inform successful teams within three weeks of submission.

For enquiries, please contact

Apply to the Innovation Research Pilot Fund


  • Does the project include student participants?
  • NB: Please hover over each box for a description of the information required and word count.
  • By submitting this application, you acknowledge that if you are selected for funding you will be required to complete the project before December 31st 2021, and provide a detailed report of your findings to the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and University of Birmingham. The findings from this report will be aggregated into an open access white paper developed by the GBSLEP and University of Birmingham.