How to create a culture of academic collaboration for your business
KESS 2, led by Bangor University
Oct 22 | 5 minutes read
Collaboration is at the heart of any successful business these days. Gone are the days of a blinkered, solitary, linear route to success. Now, value research and innovation are derived from across a business ecosystem in which organisations collaborate with their partners, customers, suppliers and other organisations.
Despite this enthusiasm to collaborate across industry and discipline, only a small number of companies are reaching out to academia as a source of innovation and inspiration.
Breaking down the barriers to research
It’s possible that in the past, business leaders may have held back from approaching higher education, viewing institutions as towers of knowledge where academics simply didn’t know the realities of life in the maelstrom that is business.
This is all changing, as universities open their doors to industry and increase the level and number of opportunities open to businesses of all sizes.
In the UK, this growth looks set to continue, with the government recently announcing that academic-industry collaboration is at the heart of their new research and innovation strategy.
This is further emphasised by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFWC) in its new vision for Wales, where it listed research excellence, partnerships, innovation and collaboration as four key pillars that will drive economic prosperity and social wellbeing across the country, the UK and beyond.
The results of these efforts are already proving impressive – spurring innovation and opening new markets. According to the UKRI, smaller companies particularly benefit from university collaboration when it comes to innovation.
The value of research and innovation collaboration
For small firms, collaboration with local universities increases the probability of new-to-the-market innovation by 7.1 percent. The numbers are still impressive for medium organisations at 6.8 percent and larger companies at 3.8 percent.
The role of universities as drivers for innovation is increasingly being recognised, with figures highlighting the role of university-business collaborations in driving local economic development.
Beyond just a company’s bottom line, collaborations also benefit wider society; helping postgraduate researchers gain relevant experience and ensuring they enter the workforce equipped and job ready. Not to mention the fact that academic partnerships have been behind some of the most significant society-shaping innovations in everything from medicine to tech to climate science.
With the value of research and innovation being recognised on all levels of society – from the SME to the public policy – more businesses are expanding their horizons and wondering how they can get a slice of the action.
For many industry leaders, academic collaboration may not always have been an obvious go-to when it comes to solving problems and driving a business forward. But a shift in mentality towards embracing these opportunities will likely have lasting benefits and could pay off several times over.
Finding the partnership that fits
Teaming up with academia can be a simple enough process; universities already work closely with businesses when it comes to growing the collaboration culture of any industry. Start small or go for a big project – the choice depends on a company’s specific needs and collaborative projects should be tailored to solving the issue they are experiencing, whatever that might be.
Higher education and governing bodies alike are recognising the innate value in academic-industry partnerships and as these increase in scale and volume across the higher education landscape, navigating funding applications naturally becomes easier and less complex.
Schemes like the Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships (KESS 2) are supporting academic collaboration as a core pillar in a business, rather than an afterthought.
Tapping the research and innovation resources
UK universities have put themselves on the map as global leaders in the field of research and innovation. With only 0.9 percent of the world’s population, and 4.1 percent of researchers, the country accounts for 10.7 percent of citations and 15.2 percent of the world’s most highly cited articles.
This high-level academic research, paired with a robust innovation ecosystem – supported by physical and digital infrastructure, world-class talent, and an enabling regulatory environment – has placed the UK in the top five of global innovation nations.
KESS 2 works to put this world-class capability to good use, linking businesses with academic expertise. The initiative pairs individual organisations with academics and PhD or Research Masters postgraduate researchers in a relevant field.
Led by Bangor University on behalf of the HE sector in Wales (involving all of the Welsh Universities in partnership) the initiative tasks the academic and the postgraduate researcher to work with the company to understand and find solutions to a specific issue or an area of development they wish to explore.
The win-win of research collaborations
The obvious immediate benefit of this is that the postgraduate researcher gets valuable industry experience, while the organisation gets workable solutions that can take their business to the next level.
Projects are designed in close partnership with the company, making it possible to find the expertise that may be lacking in-house and gain fresh ideas on problems – one of the major benefits gained from a new perspective.
With higher education’s sizeable resources and world-class knowledge at their disposal, it doesn’t take long for participants on the KESS 2 scheme to see some real material benefits.
The potential return following the project is far greater than the cost of the project itself. The innovative new ideas and added expertise that arise from the initiative can set a business apart in a crowded marketplace, positioning them as a voice of authority in their field.
Given that KESS 2 is specific to Wales, the project must fit within one (or more) of the Welsh Government’s four Grand Challenge Areas, which include Life Sciences & Health, Advanced Engineering & Materials, Low Carbon, Energy & Environment, and ICT & The Digital Economy.
Working in tandem with a postgraduate researcher and a university department goes a long way in growing the collaborative research culture within a company and helps employees and leaders see new potential.
This significantly increases the research capacity of SMEs and encourages CEOs to see research as a valuable business component. This new appreciation lasts long after the project is finished, with businesses maintaining closer ties with their local universities and also choosing to recruit more researchers to join the company.
The benefits of this resulting culture of collaboration reach beyond an individual company, improving graduate employment and leading to the development of key technologies in sectors where this is needed.
Through programmes like KESS 2, companies are increasingly embracing academic collaboration as an essential part of any successfully growing business; this is not surprising when the results of such collaborations show the potential to uncover new revenue streams, open up new markets, and instil in the workforce an appreciation for research and innovation.