The end of summer and beginning of autumn is always an unusual time of year at Sussex Innovation. Aligned as we are to the University of Sussex’s calendar, the start of the new academic year is a time for reflection and renewal. 

It’s when one Catalyst team completes its year-long placement with us, and a fresh new team of graduates joins us to set off on their own career journeys. 

As a member of last year’s intake myself, I’m happy to be sticking around in my role as Catalyst Project Manager, helping the new team to settle and get as much out of the experience as I did. 

This year’s Catalyst Team will be the ninth to join Sussex Innovation as Business Support Executives. They’ll spend a year working alongside me and my colleagues in the consultancy team, delivering targeted research, practical support and one-off projects for the growing SMEs in our community and beyond. 

What is the Catalyst Team? 
The Catalyst Team was launched in 2014 with the aim of bridging the gap between young people looking for meaningful, full-time work and business owners looking for practical support without the expensive recruitment and training costs. The team works with hundreds of businesses each year – sometimes in a continuous part-time role, sometimes for just a few hours to deliver a one-off project. This flexibility is a big selling point for the SMEs we support. 

Through our link with the University of Sussex, we’re able to access a talented pool of willing young people, who often struggle to find the kind of work opportunities that can accelerate their careers. At the same time, we know that early-stage companies often need assistance but don’t have the time to find and train employees, or commit to employing someone full time. 

By taking that burden of training and support off their hands and bringing it into our own team, we ensure that every Catalyst project has a real strategic purpose to the business, and a tangible outcome. The team member gets a real experience of working with a range of different, innovative and exciting young businesses. 

Who are the Catalyst Team members? 
You might expect most graduates to have their career plans figured out by the time they finish their degree, but for many that isn’t the case. We get a lot of applications for the Catalyst programme each year, and nearly everyone tells us that they applied to help take stock of their options as they enter the workplace. 

This attitude is great for us and our clients, because it means team members are open to trying new things and taking on a wide variety of work. We don’t always hire based on experience, but rather a keen interest to learn about different start-up industries, working environments and job roles. 

To ensure that we have a diverse team to take on practically any challenge, we hire from a wide range of schools across the university. As well as traditionally business-focused degrees like Marketing, Finance and Project Management, this year’s team includes graduates in Cognitive Neuroscience and Journalism. 

What does the Catalyst Team do? 
There’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ Catalyst client or project. We describe ourselves as the ‘ultimate temp agency’ – a great way for small businesses to check off those tasks that have been sitting on their to-do list. Many of the team’s projects involve supporting the senior Sussex Innovation consultants, building on their strategic recommendations with market research, creating content or developing websites and marketing materials. 

One of the most rewarding projects that I enjoyed working on during my year in Catalyst was for DISCnet, a collaboration between five universities to offer data science expertise to industry partners across the South East. The senior team had worked with DISCnet to develop its offer for businesses and translate its academic message into a more commercial one. I joined the project during this messaging and rebranding process, helping to simplify the design of the DISCnet website and develop it in line with our consultants’ direction. 

At the opposite end of the scale, we have clients who use the Catalyst Team as a more permanent part-time staffing solution. Brand UK, a corporate communications consultancy specialising in financial market news, has come back to work with us year after year, recruiting team members with a background in finance to help manage its social media and content marketing. 

If you’d like a Catalyst Business Executive to help your company get projects delivered, or a part-time team member to free up your time, get in touch and tell us what you need.


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