4 minute read time.

The IET’s Innovation Management Technical Network has been focusing on the challenges faced by UK innovation at its early stages.  This addresses the rocky path to commercialisation, risk reduction, addressing the need for access to technical support and building an infrastructure to make innovation work. 

There are many benefits to R&D activity which combines company innovation challenges with university skills, assets and staff. A how to do this event may be needed, and this blog seeks to ask if this initiative might be useful to the IET community.

We are considering an event which would offer companies easy access to all UK universities. It would include the start-ups and projects from the Set Squared group of universities which have raised over £4.4bn for start-ups and offer access to early-stage companies which are another way to access the results of R&D in SME form.  In addition, we would show how existing companies can find the technical resources needed to complete their R&D by reaching out to universities along the best routes.  

Early stages of innovation projects can often be improved by accessing external services, helping to ensure that an investable proof-of-concept stage is achieved.  The UK is a master of lean-funded R&D, and that is partially achieved by having cost effective access to expensive and scarce resources such as those based in universities. 

Larger companies may try to conduct R&D in house but that is often inefficient. For them, contract research companies may be an expensive answer. Start-ups and SMEs usually do not have such resources and an accessible and affordable pool of scientific, laboratory and development can be the answer,   These skills may be found in UK universities with a little effort, and we would like to show how large or small companies can find university associations an effective and economic way to grow through effective assisted innovation.

Our event (subject to feedback from the IET community) would consist of presenting show and tell on how to approach universities, use university assets, find the skills needed, create collaboratory skunk works with universities, or find would-be spin outs of interest from universities.  We would offer access to the whole of the UK university network and show examples of the process working for real companies.

Our proposed event could be built around two core university organisations –

  • Set Squared Group.(Bath University, University of Exeter, Southampton University, Cardiff University, Bristol University, University of Surrey),
  • a UKRI-funded brokerage platform called Konfer  https://konfer.online/  (created by the National Council of Universities and Business NCUB, representing the whole UK university network

Set Squared Group  Since launching in 2002, Set Squared has been a UK university incubator of start-ups and has supported over 5,000 entrepreneurs helping them raise £4.4bn investment.  The economic impact of SETsquared-supported companies is £15.7bn, with the creation of 15,600 jobs. Its innovation led start-ups and projects may provide innovation solutions to larger companies in IET communities.

NCUB and Konfer Konfer offers access to university innovation resources (a database of know-how, funding, R&D projects, businesses, patents and experts) and brokerage opportunities (UK and international organisations which are seeking innovation collaboration partners and investment).  This open-source database has many users in the scientific and engineering community and is a very useful resource, but it is not widely publicised.  It could become a significant support tool for many aspects of innovation activity. It offers unique access to hitherto inaccessible and confusing territory and can add value to any project, even at the earliest of stages.

The Konfer Database offers access to 153 universities in the UK, enabling access to local universities as well as Golden Triangle and Russell Group universities. The skills and resources needed for R&D activities can be searched for and identified.  In Konfer,There is an open source searchable list of over 140,000 sector university experts and an equipment index of over 15,000 items of R&D relevant hardware.  There is also a sector-searchable list of over 72,000 businesses so a specific commercial cluster can be identified for marketing purposes.

Universities and Companies There is a big gap between commercial companies and universities.  However, access to necessary expertise, relevant science, skills or equipment may be available if this gap is bridged. Universities are no stranger to selling consulting to large companies and occasionally transferring technology to established businesses and creating occasional spin-outs and hosting innovation centres full of emerging companies.  Access to all this is on offer via the Konfer database.

A local university can be an accessible asset to regional companies.  It is also possible to address a technical or scientific weakness in an innovation project (whether it a start-up, an SME or inside a large organisation).  It may also make financing possible.  It helps that all universities understand the need to  associate with local businesses.

We are aware that this is a new topic in the IET but it does address the growth of new and existing companies and we hope we can create an event which will open many new doors for company development.

I’d like to hear from the EngX community and the other Technical Networks as well as those IET members working in SMEs and larger organisations. Also, would-be entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs too of course.   IET members in Universities too.

Feedback please. Is this event necessary?  If not, tell us. If yes can you suggest any ways to improve or enhance this potential event?  Would a simpler event be better? Leave your thoughts in the comments or send me a private message me via EngX