Skip to main content
Share price

Virgin Money is expanding its innovative Levelling Upstarts programme which gives SMEs the opportunity to partner directly with MBA and master’s students from leading universities through digital workshops.

The programme aims to both empower regional SMEs to level up and to foster the next generation of business leaders by providing invaluable insights from the business leaders of tomorrow to the business leaders of today.

In 2022 the Levelling Upstarts programme brought together 40 business owners with over 200 MBA and masters students from the University of Leeds and Aston University in a series of workshops to address barriers to productivity. This year the programme will also be available to students at the University of Strathclyde and Newcastle University.

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 master’s students, Virgin Money wants to provide SMEs with the latest business advice and recommendations – something they may not otherwise have access to.

Abergower, a Glasgow based digitisation and manufacturing businesses, took part in the Levelling Upstarts programme last year. Originally the business focused on document digitisation, working on everything from historic births, deaths, and marriages records to industrial-scale scanning of legal and accountancy documentation. Robin Prior, the owner and managing director, said the pandemic was a “sea change” for the business as it began to concentrate more of its efforts on manufacturing and 3D printing, including a focus on medical devices, producing award winning PCR Covid 19 test swabs and digital dentistry, which includes printing dentures, aligners, and bridges. Taking part in the programme gave the business the opportunity to work with some “really switched-on students” and they have already started to implement the marketing advice and recommendations the students put forward, including a plan to redesign their 3D website.

Kash Ahmad, Head of Business Banking at Virgin Money said: “SMEs are the lifeblood of our local economies and are key to helping our communities to level up. However, we know that small business owners are time poor, and this impacts their ability to plan effectively for the future.

“The Levelling Upstarts programme allows businesses to get focused, comprehensive and tangible support, by pooling the resources of talented business students, to help them think outside of the box, while simultaneously giving students valuable and transferable skills.”

Professor David Hillier, Executive Dean of the University of Strathclyde Business School, said: “We're delighted to be participating in the Levelling Upstarts programme which will provide benefits to both our students and the SMEs taking part. The Strathclyde ethos is one of 'useful learning' - not just delivering the theory of business but providing opportunities for our students to engage practically with the business world wherever possible which ties in perfectly with this latest partnership with Virgin Money.

"Both our students and the participating businesses will benefit by being able to share ideas, put thoughts into practice, offer alternative perspectives, challenge the perceived norm, create bold solutions and ultimately work in partnership to enable the SMEs to move forward.”

Any small business with less than 250 employees can apply to take part in the programme – they don’t need to be a Virgin Money customer. All the workshops are online so there are no location barriers for the businesses.

Applications for the programme opens on 10 January and will run until June. Businesses that wish to express an interest can email for further information on how to apply.