Innovation Leadership programme graduate helping in fight against COVID-19

A company that has benefited from Keele University’s Innovation Leadership programme is now supporting the fight against COVID-19 through the production of specialised components for the manufacturing of ventilators.

Gary Smith, Joint Managing Director at Newcastle-under-Lyme-based Staffordshire Precision Engineering (SPE), took part in the University’s programme in 2018 to enable him to develop and embed new business leadership techniques that could be used to grow the company. Now, less than two years later, the learning and contacts that he made during the programme have helped SPE to play a significant role in the UK’s response to the global pandemic.

“Our day-to-day business sees us producing high-quality components for a variety of specialised industries such as aerospace, automotive and scientific,” said Gary. “At the beginning of the crisis, we still effectively had a full order book but, as a company, we very much wanted to use our specialist knowledge and high precision manufacturing equipment to help wherever we could.”

During the programme, Gary was coached by one of Keele’s Entrepreneurs in Residence, David Lowe, with whom he has continued to keep in regular contact with. And it was during a conversation in March between the two that the topic turned to COVID-19.

“I knew there was potential for SPE to get involved in the Government’s call for ventilators, so David and I spoke about how we could quickly pivot the business to meet this challenge whilst maintaining a service to our core customers.

“At about the same time, we received enquiries from one of a number of Formula One teams that we regularly work with, plus a global Aerospace company, to support them in their production of more than 15,000 ventilators as part of The VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium.

“Thanks to the amazing work of the whole SPE team – supported by David’s advice and the learning from the Keele programme that I had been able to pass onto the team – we were actively manufacturing precision parts for ventilators a matter of days later.”

In addition to supporting the production of ventilators, SPE make high precision components for Mass Spectrometry instrumentation used in quality control with respect to the development of COVID-19 test kits. They also make components for some of the specialist laboratory equipment being used in the search for potential vaccines.

David Lowe added:

“It’s great to see that the leadership development and support that Gary has gained through Keele’s programme has helped SPE to continue to not only safely operate during the pandemic, but to also make vital contributions that could ultimately save lives across the world.”

The Keele University Science & Innovation Park Smart Innovation Hub Innovation Leadership programme* aims to equip aspirational business leaders and entrepreneurs with the skills and knowledge to tackle the internal and external challenges of business growth. The programme, consisting of 12 sessions over a six-month period, offers a mix of one-to-one coaching, workshops and interactive sessions covering a range of topics such as marketing, internationalisation and business planning.

The programme is fully-funded and is exclusively open to SME business leaders based in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire. Applications for the programme’s next cohorts are now being accepted – to find out more information about the programme and to apply, visit

For more information about the business support opportunities offered by Keele University through the Business Gateway, visit

Smart Innovation Hub funder logos *The Keele University Science & Innovation Park Smart Innovation Hub Innovation Leadership programme is delivered through Keele University Science & Innovation Park Smart Innovation Hub (Ref: 32R17P01691) / Innovation Centre 6 which has been part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund as part of the England Growth Programme 2014-2020, the Midlands Engine and Staffordshire County Council with support from the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) (and in London the intermediate body Greater London Authority) is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit