HUDDERSFIELD aims to be at the hub of efforts to boost UK businesses and the economy with the completion of a £12m innovation centre.

The 3M Buckley Innovation Centre is set to open its doors officially in the new year – but is already working with a range of companies in its stated aim to help them develop products, access finance and forge ahead in new markets.

Managing director Patrick Allen said: “The current economic downturn has meant that many businesses are struggling to keep afloat. There has been an increase in the number of business start-ups as people struggle to get back onto the employment ladder following redundancies.

“We want to support these businesses and give them the best possible start in what are very difficult times. Through 3MBIC we can do just that – whether it’s financial advice, commercial support or simply giving small businesses access to state-of-the-art meeting rooms for client meetings.

“All of the above ultimately gives them the momentum to secure clients and succeed in business.”

The centre, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Huddersfield University, draws on expertise from the university’s academic and research arms as well as the entrepreneurship of a range of mentors to help firms overcome issues in developing their businesses.

The centre, which was funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Kirklees Council, offers flexible workspace, meeting rooms and laboratories equipped with high-performance computer systems and high-tech kit for the manufacturing and engineering sectors.

Facilities in its Innovation Avenue include an acoustic camera, which uses sound vibrations to predict potential points of failure in items such as gearboxes and turbines.

Surface metrology equipment is being used to test and investigate the materials used in items such as oil and gas pipelines, propeller blades and replacement hip joints.

And 3D printing will be able to help companies product low-cost prototypes of items such as engine components.

Companies can take space as tenants at the centre or make use of its facilities on an ad hoc basis. The centre aims to attract 100 tenant companies and up to 1,000 associate firms.

Companies already using its facilities include Huddersfield valve firm Severn Unival, marine engineer Whale Technologies, TRAC Measurement Systems and the National Physical Laboratory, which has set up research facilities in one of the centre’s temperature-controlled labs.

Centre chief executive Prof Liz Towns-Andrews said “This is a new way of the university working with business.” She said the university – with its 24,000 students, 2,800 staff and large number of postgraduates – had ambitions to be a “serious” player in the field of research, adding: “This centre is the next step in that process.”

The university already works with major names including Rolls-Royce, Cadbury and the NHS as well as local firms such as Paxman Coolers, Westin and David Brown. It has a strategic partnership with Siemens to look at creating a particle accelerator which could help in the treatment of cancer.

Galpharm Pharmaceuticals founder Graham Leslie, the university’s resident professor of entrepreneurship drew on his own experiences helping turnaround failing companies to highlight how the centre could help firms developing new products and providing “proof of concept” to funders, suppliers and customers.

He said: “After I sold Galpharm, I wanted to set up a Yorkshire Business Academy to improve the success rate of start-up firms. When I came to see Prof Bob Cryan, the University vice-chancellor he asked me to support his plan for the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre with Prof Towns-Andrews. Hopefully, together we epitomise the way academia and enterprise can work together.”