Teaming up with M&S for a new online course in business innovation


World class innovation by leading retailer Marks & Spencer is featured in one of two free online courses launched today by the University of Leeds.

Important developments in the fresh food supply chain and with machine washable fabrics feature as M&S shares its knowledge of innovation as part of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).

It is the second of a two-part business series developed by the University – the first course looks at enterprise and harnesses entrepreneurial expertise gleaned from successful start-ups. Both are now open for registration.

Starting a business: realise your vision will run from June 30, will show participants how to turn an idea into a successful business opportunity.

Innovation: the key to business success runs from September 15 and uses case studies from the University of Leeds as well as M&S – with which it has a key partnership – illustrating how people are key to driving successful innovation in existing businesses.

Professor Nigel Lockett, Director of Enterprise at Leeds, is lead educator for Starting a business. He said: “This course is for anyone who wants to set up a business or is at the early stage of starting a business.

“We use the experiences of our own student entrepreneurs and put participants in the hot seat. The two-week course will give them the chance to experience real-life business dilemmas as faced by the entrepreneurs, who have all gone on to establish successful companies of their own.

“After working through the different options with our business advisers, participants have to vote on which decisions they would have taken when faced with the same situation, before our entrepreneurs reveal how they did it.”

The course will also examine subjects such as marketing and finance, and harnesses the expertise of business advisers, assisted by staff from Leeds University Business School, Leeds Enterprise Centre and its SPARK service for start-ups.

Design expert Dan Trowsdale, who is a Senior Teaching Fellow in the School of Mechanical Engineering at Leeds, is heading up the three-week Innovation course. It aims to provide valuable professional development to people at various stages of their career.

He said: “This course is about the innovation process, not just the idea of invention, but taking a creative idea, commercialising it and also how simple ideas can have a huge impact on society.

“To illustrate successful innovation, we will draw upon case studies from Marks & Spencer. Using material from the Company Archive based here on campus and interviews with Marks & Spencer employees, we will explore a number of their innovations.”

He added that examples of innovation from the University would show how cutting-edge research can lead to innovations that move businesses forward.

Alison Houston, Head of the M&S Company Archive, said: “This unique course brings together learnings from professional business and academia, illustrating how creative concepts are balanced with commercial thinking to forge business success.

“M&S has always had innovation at the heart of its business, right from our early beginnings in Leeds, and we are looking forward to collaborating with the University of Leeds to open this experience up to all.”

Both courses will run on FutureLearn, the social learning platform, and are open to anyone with a computer, tablet or smartphone. The courses feature videos, interactive quizzes and fora allowing participants to ask questions and interact with their peers. Both courses will offer the opportunity for learners to buy a Statement of Participation on completion of the course.

Professor Neil Morris, Director of Digital Learning at the University of Leeds, said: “Both courses aim to stimulate and encourage further growth in innovation and entrepreneurialism in the business sector. They illustrate how the University is working with successful individuals and companies to develop freely available educational materials for the benefit of all online learners.”

Both courses offer about four hours’ learning each week, which participants can do in their own time. For more details, see and Or visit FutureLearn at   

Further information

FutureLearn courses are free for all, with potential students of all ages from across the globe able to choose a course that interests them and learn from the University of Leeds’ top academics – benefiting from virtual access to world-leading researchers in their field and studying at a pace that suits them.

The relocation of the M&S Company Archive to the University of Leeds has provided the foundation for a broader partnership between both organisations. This partnership has led to collaboration on cutting-edge research and delivered support for employability opportunities for young people. The M&S Company Archive is of considerable value to scholars due to the economic and social importance of M&S – lending itself to a number of research projects from the evolution of the company, development of staff welfare programmes and financial performance through to the growth of the store network and the range and nature of products provided to a growing mass market. To find out more, see:

Interviews with course leaders can also be arranged through the press office: 0113 343 3996 or  Images from the M&S archive and from the online course content are also available from the press office.