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Frequently Asked Questions


1. What is the InfoLab21 Strategic Innovation Support Programme (ISTEP)?

ISTEP aims to help support, develop and expand the Northwest’s Digital and Creative Sector by facilitating access to the knowledge base at InfoLab21, identifying suitable partnerships and bringing together people with shared interests and ideas to facilitate joint projects and ventures, putting ideas into practice. ISTEP provides a range of knowledge exchange activities which enable businesses and academics to work side by side to develop new products, processes and new business /value chain collaborations that will have a significant and measurable impact on each business, creating and safeguarding jobs and sales.


2. How is ISTEP Funded?

ISTEP is delivered by InfoLab21 and part financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) was established by the European Commission in 1975 to stimulate economic development in less prosperous regions of the European Union (EU). As EU membership has grown, ERDF has developed into a major funding stream to help redress regional imbalances.  In the Northwest, with a total of £521million (dependent on exchange rate) of ERDF funding between 2007 and 2013, the ERDF Programme will enhance the competitiveness of the region’s economy by supporting growth in employment and enterprise.  Managed by the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA), this is the largest ERDF programme in England.

3. What kind of support can I get for my business from ISTEP?

ISTEP is able to help a company innovate when they:

  • Do not have the specialist resources to progress development
  • Need to raise their technical confidence in new areas of technology
  • Require specialist expertise to progress an grant or bid application

ISTEP supports innovation by helping businesses find experts in specific areas to explore technology solutions and create new products and processes.


  • We provide support through structured consultancy, drawing from the expertise based in the two academic departments in InfoLab21 and experienced Technology and Knowledge Transfer specialists.
  • Expertise is available in the following 5 key areas: Comms & Networking, Computer Systems, Software Engineering, Intelligent Systems, Human Computer Interaction (HCI).
  • ISTEP provides a range of ways for NW SMEs to collaborate: Expert consultancy, Development Projects, Technical Workshops (Brunch Bytes), Spin out company support, Regional Events.
  • Information and guidance on accessing funding mechanisms for commercialisation such TBS, Framework 7.
  • Information and facilitation of schemes that provide SMEs with extra resources for commercialisation such as KTPs, CASE Studentships and Specialist PhD Consultancies.

(Follow the links for more information and examples for each area of expertise.)

4. How can I find out if my business is eligible for free support from ISTEP?

Size: Micro and small to medium enterprises (SMEs) with an annual turnover of ≤ €50M or an annual balance sheet total of ≤ €43M and 1 to 249 full time (equivalent) employees

Location: based in the Northwest of England i.e. anywhere within:

  • Cumbria
  • Lancashire
  • Cheshire & Warrington
  • Greater Manchester
  • Merseyside.

(Postcode restrictions no longer apply)

How can I find out if my  business is eligible for free support from ISIS?


Sector: Digital and Creative Industries only.

Each project must have a significant impact on your business- support can only be given to businesses that can demonstrate that the support will have a clear and measurable impact on their business results in defined business benefits such as increases in business performance, increased jobs and a gross value added figure (GVA*). We are not able to provide the following through ISTEP: Business Critical developments, Straightforward development e.g. brochure websites, Physical network installation, market ready applications. . Places are limited, we are looking to work with 125 eligible SMEs over 3 years across 5 sub-regions.

If you are not sure if your company is eligible, please contact us to check.


5. Will support from ISTEP cost my company anything?

ICT support through ISTEP is free for eligible companies as it is part-financed by the European Regional Development fund.


6. Who do I contact to find out about ISTEP?

For further details and an informal discussion on potential support contact InfoLab21’s Business Development Team:

Sam Winder
tel: +44 (0)01524 510463

7. What is the process involved in getting assistance through ISTEP?

How can I find out if my  business is eligible for free support from ISIS?
  1. Our Business Development Team, who have helped assist over 500 SMEs, take your details will listen to your needs, advise if the activity is eligible and work with you to:

    1. Provide impartial advice and support to help each business identify opportunities to collaborate with InfoLab21’s specialist academic community.
    2. Develop a bespoke action plan to put your ideas into practise
    3. Select the appropriate method of collaboration eg, SciTech Developments – Post Innovation Voucher support, One2one academic consultancies, Specialist PhD consultancy, Bespoke workshops, Horizon Briefings
    4. Broker and support collaborative relationships with InfoLab21 specialists to help match  interests and ideas to foster collaboration and facilitate innovation
    5. Access appropriate funding mechanisms to support the innovation.
    6. Manage & support technology transfer activity to maximise the value of commercially viable innovations.

      See Q.11 for what will happen if the activity is not eligible through ISTEP.


8. Who manages ISTEP?

Project ISTEP is managed by Nick King.
Nick King

Business Development Manager
tel: +44 (0)1524 510447
mob: +44 (0)7772 175777

Who will deliver the support?

9. Who will deliver the support?

Support can be provided through one to one consultancy, drawing from the expertise based in the two academic departments in InfoLab21, knowledge transfer specialists, SciTech Developments – Post Innovation Voucher support, One2one academic consultancies, Specialist PhD consultancy, Bespoke workshops, KTP, CASE.


10. I would like ICT support on a topic that’s not one of the key areas of expertise identified. Can you still help me?

Very likely- ISTEP is one of several ways that InfoLab21 can provide support. We have another project called ISIS which provides free transformational ICT support.

We also have access to a vast research base at InfoLab21 and resources from the InfoLab21 Student Academy and the InfoLab21 ICT JobShop.

Contact us to let us know what you need and we are likely to be able to deliver it ourselves or know someone who can through our extensive partner network.

measuring outputs

11. How and why does InfoLab21 measure transformational ICT?

The aim of ISTEP is to benefit the regional economy through transformational ICT.  This is measured by recording the outcomes or “outputs” for each piece of work we do for a company. InfoLab21 has to report back to its funding bodies on how each project has created and safeguarded jobs for each company we work with and also how it has also increased its Gross Value Added (GVA).

What is GVA?

12. What is Gross Value Added (GVA) and what is it used for?

*For the ERDF NW Operational Programme, the NWDA has set one of its output indicators (results) as ‘Businesses improving their performance’ using GVA.

GVA is a measure of the value of the goods and services produced in an area or sector of the economy. It is primarily used to monitor the performance of the national (and regional) economy and is now the preferred method by many to measure the overall economic well-being of an area.

For each company we work with, we will measure the increase in GVA from a baseline position to an agreed date at which the assistance is complete.

GVA calculations

13. How is Gross Value Added calculated?

*The following calculation, as defined by the NWDA provides the GVA for a company:

GVA = Total salary or wage costs + pre-tax profit + depreciation


  • Total salary/wage costs: defined as total employee costs including employer NI and pension contributions over a given period e.g. 12 months.
  • Pre-tax profit: defined as the profits made by the company before tax deductions are made over a given period e.g. 12 months.
  • Depreciation: economic depreciation is seen as the change in the market value of capital over a given period e.g. 12 months.

This should be based on a baseline position of the previous year Annual Report/Company Accounts.

14. How do GVA and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) relate to each other?

*Both GVA and GDP are measures of Output, and both measure the value of goods and services produced in the economy. However, GVA differs from GDP in that GVA excludes taxes and subsidies. This is because the use of taxes and subsidies can only be measured at a whole economy level.


GVA + taxes on products - subsidies on products = GDP

Or in more detail: GVA (at current basic prices; available by industry only) plus taxes on products (available at whole economy level only) less subsidies on products (available at whole economy level only) equals GDP (at current market prices; available at whole economy level only).

*Produced with support from the following sources:

The Office of National Statistics (2002) Guide to Gross Value Added
Wikipedia (2009) Gross value added