An image of Empty Plates owners Gary McDonnell and Anne Lambelin standing next to each other
L-R Empty Plates owners Gary McDonnell and Anne Lambelin

Edge Hill University’s Productivity and Innovation Centre (PIC) has reached a major milestone after welcoming the 100th small-to-medium enterprise (SME) to pass through its scale-up programme. 

Empty Plates, a catering provider in West Lancashire, is the 100th SME to progress through the PIC’s Innovation Sprint Programme, a scale-up initiative that supports companies to increase competitiveness and build resilience in their business model.  

The Innovation Sprint Programme, which is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, has been available to Lancashire SMEs for the past three years and was recently extended until 2023. 

Now in its second iteration, the programme will continue to support SMEs who have the potential to scale-up, with 50 hours of intense online workshops, facilitated by business and academic experts. The new phase will include additional elements of support including productivity, workforce development and technology adoption. 

Empty Plates is co-owned by Gary McDonnell and Anne Lambelin, who together have a wealth of experience of working in the food industry and identified an opportunity to pivot the business towards a recruitment agency, specifically serving the catering sector. 

Anne Lambelin, Director of Empty Plates, said: “We are delighted that we are the 100th company that the PIC has supported, but it doesn’t surprise us at all; the quality of the people, the structure of the programme and the advice offered provide so many benefits, I am sure that the team will go on to help hundreds more, without a doubt.” 

Empty Plates has invested in and developed a new software tool, Torque Info Ltd, to support and simplify the complex requirement of filling staff vacancies, often at short notice. 

Gary and Anne sought the opportunity to access the Innovation Sprint Programme to work with business experts who could help them to structure a plan to complete the development of Torque Info Ltd, as well as building a launch strategy for the service. 

Anne added: “The Innovation Sprint Programme has been a fabulous support, eye opener and thought-provoking process to put our new venture on track. The programme provides constructive criticism from the experts to help you unpick and address your challenges. We now have a plan in place that will drive our vision into the future.” 

Steve McArdle, Business Development Coordinator at the PIC, facilitated the digital workshops and worked with Empty Plates to help them define their business strategy.

Steve said: “Reaching the milestone of supporting 100 SMEs is a fantastic achievement for our team and for the University. The PIC has evolved into a digitally delivered programme which means flexibility for participants and has further increased the impact we have for companies. Working with Empty Plates was a pleasure, the company have gone from strength to strength over the past few years and with our support, we look forward to seeing them take their business on to the next level.”

The 100 SMEs have engaged in Innovation Sprint Programme to date have come from a wide range of sectors including manufacturing, IT & digital, business and financial services, hospitality & catering and health sector. On average, the growth achieved has been 29 per cent, and over 40 new products or services have been implemented.

Many of the SMEs who have completed the programme are continuing to work with the PIC through a range of funded initiatives to support their growth strategies including professional management and leadership programmes, digital technology adoption and growth (KTP) and workforce development.