Universities in the West Midlands have generated £100 million in sales for local businesses and saved more than 2,600 jobs through development work with SMEs, a local collaboration group has claimed.

The West Midlands Technology Network (WMTN) – a project set up to stimulate collaboration between universities and businesses in the region, said the link between higher education and enterprise was getting more and more important as time went on.

The group helps small and medium-sized companies devise and develop new products and services as well as improving existing business processes.

Dr Tony Robotham, of the WMTN, said: “This milestone gives hope to hundreds of small businesses beginning to feel the strain of the economic downturn and demonstrates the extent to which collaborations between universities and businesses can develop and strengthen the regional economy.

“It is this commitment to investment in innovation in product, processes and people that is going to help businesses survive and develop at this time.”

WMTN said the role of universities in the development of business was gaining recognition in local and central government.

Higher education minister David Lammy recently said when launching a new government document that higher education was set to play a central role in supporting businesses and individuals with skills, advice, knowledge and know-how.

The work of the WMTN has been part funded by the European Regional Development Fund to help minimise both the costs and risks to business associated with essential research and development activities; it has also opened up opportunities for small businesses to access university resources that would only have previously been available to larger companies with substantial research and development budgets. As this funding runs out at the end of 2008 the WMTN is currently working to secure further funding to continue this collaborative venture and ensure further growth in the local economy.

The WMTN’s partners include the University of Wolverhampton, Birmingham City University, Coventry University, Staffordshire University, Walsall College and Coventry City Council.

WMTN partner Dr Alan Collins, director of business development at the University of Wolverhampton, said: “In the current economic climate it is going to be the smaller businesses that struggle the most, yet it is also the innovation coming out of small businesses that can help the economy come out stronger after the downturn. Universities can provide the expertise of knowledge and innovation needed by small businesses. This valuable work by the WMTN helps to ensure businesses are aware of their opportunities.”