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Virgin Money has launched Levelling Upstarts, an innovative new programme which gives SMEs the opportunity to partner directly with MBA and Masters students from leading universities through digital workshops to help them solve specific business challenges.

As a bank with a long history of helping businesses to thrive in difficult times, Virgin Money is always looking for new ways to support SMEs. Levelling Upstarts aims to both empower regional SMEs to level up and to foster the next generation of business leaders.

Virgin Money wants to assist SMEs with overcoming the numerous challenges they face. Every business has its own unique obstacles, whether that’s building brand awareness, honing a competitive advantage or selling into new markets. By facilitating access to MBA and Masters students at leading universities, Virgin Money will enable businesses to gain tailored guidance and recommendations.

The programme will not only help SMEs, but will also help to develop the business leaders of the future by supporting MBA and Masters students. It is a unique opportunity for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs to gain direct access to the growing businesses of today, putting their training into practice and gaining new skills along the way, boosting their employability.

The Levelling Upstarts programme is open to SMEs from across the UK, irrespective of whether they are customers of Virgin Money.

The digital workshops for successful applicants will be held with the University of Leeds in March, with Sheffield Hallam University in April, and with Aston University in March and June. Around 40 businesses will be selected to take part in the initial round of workshops.

Graeme Sands, Interim Head of Business Banking at Virgin Money said: “Our new Levelling Upstarts programme enables businesses to get focused, comprehensive and free support that otherwise may not be available to them. By pooling the resources of talented business students and helping them point their brainpower at real world problems, the programme can help to solve commercial challenges while simultaneously giving MBA and Masters students valuable and transferable skills to help their future careers. And that’s great for both students and participating businesses.”

Kirit Vaidya, Fulltime MBA Programme Director at Aston Business School said: We have been working with Virgin Money for over two years. We are excited to participate in the Levelling Upstarts programme. Our students have experience and expertise in a range of areas including IT, marketing, operations and human relations in addition to what they learn on our MBA programme. The students gain enormously from the experience of applying their knowledge to add value for businesses. The participating businesses gain from the students’ expertise and fresh perspectives in addressing specific challenges or to transform their business models in a fast changing world.”

Dr Richard Tunstall, Associate Professor from the University of Leeds said: “Both our students and the participating businesses can gain immensely from the Levelling Upstarts programme: sharing ideas, putting thoughts into practice, offering alternative perspectives, challenging the perceived norm, creating bold solutions and ultimately working in partnership to enable the SMEs to move forward, while providing students with valuable insight into entrepreneurs real-world experience.”

Applications for the programme open on Monday 17th January and will run until the end of February. Businesses that wish to express an interest can email for further information on how to apply.