Bondholder University of Derby won the Knowledge Exchange/Transfer Initiative of the Year award earlier this month at the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards 2015.
The Institute for Innovation in Sustainable Engineering (IISE) was set up to enable small businesses to access the University of Derby's engineering expertise.
In a city where rail, aerospace and automotive businesses account for 65% of the city's economic output and 36% of local employment, small and medium businesses expressed they couldn't previously access Derby's knowledge exchange programmes, which focused on high-level skills.
The vision for IISE was outlined in 2012-13 and the University appointed a director and acquired a former mill to house the institute, which provides laboratories and workshops. In its first year, SMEs and original equipment manufacturers joined the institute's board and pledged £6.3m in support and equipment.
Derby has since increased its knowledge transfer partnerships from 1 to 10 and appointed its first SME-sponsored professorial position in 2013-14.
The judges said that among a strong field, Derby's "institutional commitment" to the project was "notable, as was the response from local industry". The "aptness" of the knowledge exchange strategy given the city of Derby's economy also helped to convince judges that the entry "edged out" the other candidates.
Winners attended a black-tie event at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London, hosted by actor and comedian Jack Whitehall, where over 1,000 guests gathered to celebrate outstanding performance in the competitive world of UK higher education.
The winners were chosen by a panel of judges including Alison Johns (Chief Executive of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education), David McBeth (Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange Services at the University of Strathclyde), and Maja Maricevic (Head of Higher Education at the British Library).