Centre of Excellence Showcase

SME Centre of Excellence is an enterprise agency and training provider based in the North East of England. Their company vision is to provide a one-stop service in order to help SMEs to start, survive and thrive.

As well as becoming an IOEE academy, educational organisations also have the opportunity to become an IOEE Centre of excellence. A Centre of Excellence recognises the importance of creating and sustaining an enterprising and entrepreneurial culture. They embed enterprise education within their training programmes and support their learners to be more entrepreneurial in their approach to challenges and opportunities. One Centre of Excellence that does just this is SME Centre of excellence.

Providing their learners with tailored support and techniques to identify their challenges and create opportunities, the SME Centre of Excellence advocates for enterprise education, and implements practical elements of enterprise education within their own delivery programmes.

We recently got to speak with Ammar Mirza CBE, the Executive Chair of the SME Centre of Excellence. Ammar spoke to us about their programme, their learners and what sets them apart from more traditional providers of education.

The SME Centre of Excellence came on board as an IOEE Centre of Excellence in 2021. Since their approval, they have provided a number of learners with valuable skills, knowledge and techniques to support their enterprising journeys.

Ammar started the conversation with an overview of their learners, putting their programme and delivery methods into context. With SME Centre of Excellence’s learners generally being business owners, entrepreneurs and innovators, SME Centre of Excellence has developed their own delivery plans to ensure their training is appropriate and beneficial to their niche audience.

While on the course, learners are taught how to “start, survive and thrive” within enterprise, creating successful and sustainable business models. While on their innovation programme, learners work on real live challenges or opportunities to help them fix things or make them better that are specific and relevant to them. They learn the relevant knowledge and skills, “from clearly discovering the problem through to idea, validated solution and pitching.”

Ammar said “traditional learning models focus on theory and a practical application within the security of a hypothetical case study scenario” explaining how SME Centre of Excellence are different to other training providers. And their learners are different too as they are “not your usual HE and FE learners, our learners come to us with a social or economic issue they want to solve”, although they support all learners through their innovative person centred approaches. 

With their learners being so focused and driven to solve socio-economic issues in the real world, the more traditional methods of education would not provide them with the real-world experience needed to tap into these markets. SME Centre of Excellence delivers a comprehensive training programme that supports their learned to discover these answers, try them out and apply them in an entrepreneurial setting. The learners are given the same theoretical knowledge as they would gain in traditional settings, with the added benefit of a more personalised and tailored approach to their specific business idea.

We wanted to know more about what their students would get from completing the qualification, and Ammar told us:

“Our learners get three things:

1. They get the toolset. These are the tools and techniques to apply to their business idea or issue.

2. They get the skillset. So, we spend time developing their enterprising skills as well as other soft skills needed to thrive within enterprise.

3. They get the mindset. This is where we step in to support the learners to adapt their beliefs and behaviours within the field of enterprise. Sometimes pushing them out of their comfort zone or just sparking new ideas.”

SME Centre of Excellence’s ability to identify the foundation of an enterprising being, and provide their learners with a qualification to demonstrate this to their employers, is exactly what it means to be a Centre of Excellence. Looking for those opportunities to provide learners with added value, qualifications and enterprise experience that will actually benefit their specific role or idea. This is exactly what being a Centre of Excellence is about.

To find out more about Centre of Excellence status, and if it is right for your organisation, head over to https://ioee.org.uk/centres-of-excellence or get in touch with a member of the team who will be happy to discuss this with you.