Businesses collaborating with Universities: a Primer

The intersections between business and academia

Through my education as an undergraduate and Masters student in the UK, and later as the director of Eulergy.com, I have witnessed the various touch points that business currently has available with universities.

The reports from the NCUB , Sir Andrew Witty , Sir Tim Wilson The Work Foundation to name a few, all example the benefits of business / academic collaboration. But what are the options and what are the hurdles that can present themselves to this collaboration?

If you run a business then I hope this represents a short primer to accessing valuable research today.

There are lots of ways that businesses can engage with academia and the most popular are explored below. Categorising this list there are three main themes that appear - businesses recruiting, businesses accessing research or IP, business and universities accessing a community. The latter theme here generally corresponds to the increased trend in both university and business run enterprise incubation, and the output of these activities may vary, but they generally lay within brand exposure (for both business or universities) or accessing talent / IP.

Where else do you find people whose job it is is to think and innovate?

The most common ways of collaborating are:

Knowledge Transfer Partnership - Collaboration / IP

I won’t go into detail here as the article ‘What does a university gain from a Knowledge Transfer Partnership?’ by Dr Clive Hayter delves deeper. However, KTP’s and their representing departments lend themselves to medium and large sized businesses who have a longer project timeline and wish to further develop their ongoing relationship with a particular university. This can be a costly experience in resources as much as it may be in budget. However the scale of project may vary greatly enabling a tentative business to test the water first with a smaller project.

The KTP is secure in the knowledge transfer remit. They are set up to enable new academic projects exposure to collaboration within the sector for those students / academics involved and the production of new IP for the business. Cost: approx. £60,000 and up

Business Development / Enterprise centres - Community / Collaboration / IP

Enterprise centres, as described here, offer business services to students and alumni. Some centres work closely with KTP offices or house the KTP within themselves, and equally often offer incubation or accelerator connections. On a basic level enterprise centres are a great place to find students engaged in IP with direct business applications. Usually these cottage businesses are being supported in some way by the institution, usually by providing them desk space, grants, and professional services. The centres often engage with business to support some of these activities or to offer mentoring, and can be an effective way of building a relationship with a university without dropping a substantial investment.

Business incubators / accelerators - Community / Recruiting

Similarly, incubators have become more of a hot topic since the meteoric rise of the likes of  TechStars and are becoming more common place for universities to offer accelerator programs or prizes to support businesses coming out of universities. These can also be a good place to make small investments in product ideas as well as scout for business focused alumni for employment opportunities.

Careers - Collaboration / Recruiting

The careers office in most universities provide access to internships, vacancy boards, and graduate fairs. This department will be able to help businesses access students to work with for a semester or a study year which will then feedback into their courses. I’ve found careers departments to be extremely helpful as they bridge the short term needs of businesses accessing a university and expect to work with lots of enquirers.

Departments / lecturers - Awareness / Collaboration

I have done several talks at universities concerning startups / entrepreneurialism / technology / Eulergy.com and these often occur through societies or individuals in schools / departments. Course leaders are a good port of call for this but you’ll find that they are often very busy so the lead time on lecturers can vary.

Online - Collaboration / Community

Over the last few years a few online services have been making head way into making universities more accessible for businesses small and big.

Mykindacrowd  - helps businesses access research through prizes for students. Their one-to-many model works well with low level tasks and feedback on business ideas that need validation.

Eulergy.com  - works on a one-to-one or one-to-few model and therefore is aimed at higher level research found at post graduate levels and beyond. Eulergy aims to match a specific business need with a specific student or academic, which in turn feeds back into their own work. Students and academics can also propose research projects in order to attract funding and collaboration.

So there you have it: an introduction to the landscape of business / university intersections. I hope this was useful and will encourage more businesses to access universities for various reasons - where else do you find people whose job it is is to think and innovate?

Categories: resources

Tags: university, Company, Collaboration

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