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The A to Z of university partnerships
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Solent Innovation 2012 Event

20 July 2012. Eastpoint Centre, Southampton.
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The A to Z of university partnerships

The A to Z of university partnerships

A list of 26 practical ways to prepare for, develop and sustain good relations (and successful business) between your partner university and your company.

ACTION … Don’t wait for the right moment. Connect to your local university now. Be active and start the process as early as you can. These things take time so start now.

BE PREPARED … Businesses and universities do have very different, sometimes opposing agendas which can give rise to miss-understandings and opportunities to waste time and money. Prepare yourself and be open minded. Look for common purpose and seek to engage in a mutually beneficial manner.

COLLABORATION … Every mutually beneficial relationship operates in a positive collaborative way. Universities offer many services and like any other business, they are defined by their ability to serve. Nevertheless, the heart of long-term sustainable partnerships is defined by mutual respect and shared purpose. Ensure at an early stage that shared goals are clearly identified.

DEVELOP … Partnerships of any sort are about the development of the parties involved. Start by looking at areas within your business where there are opportunities to develop skills, new products, new markets, new processes. It’s likely that in a university there are matching services and skillsets that are looking for an industrial application.

EMBRACE … Like most good things in life, passion drives success. When we embrace things that we are passionate about, regardless of the challenges, we seem to succeed in the end. If you want to take your engineering firm, accountancy practice or high-tech venture to the limits, just make sure you and your team have the commitment and focus to carry it off.

FUNDING … The current climate is one of scarcity. There are funding opportunities. The market is warming up. The STEM sector is one of the few industries where opportunities for funding still apply. Don’t however, see a university partnership as an opportunity for funding alone.

GRADUATE EMPLOYMENT … A key reason for any university to open its doors to business is that ultimately, it wants it students to be beneficially employed upon leaving. Equally, business thrives when it introduces new blood, new ideas, new skills to help it develop.

HESTEM … Higher Education Science Technology Engineering and Maths. The development of knowledge, experience, new technologies, innovation and its practical application through commerce and enterprise is one of the most important assets that Britain possesses.

INNOVATION … Central government policy places innovation at the centre of its strategy for strengthening the economy, maintaining premier status in the league of nations, and for solving the catalogue of social and environmental challenges facing us. Wealth is also generated through innovation. New ideas spawn new ways of thinking, and in commercial terms create new revenue streams through the application of strong Intellectual Property protection.

JOIN … Networking is a powerful tool for accessing new ideas as well as meeting new customers and prospective partners. University staff can frequently be found in networks. Similarly organisations like Marine Southeast, The Solent Local Enterprise Partnership, Business Southeast, The Institute of Directors and the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire and P1 Marine Foundation all have active programmes and expertise in how to engage successfully with universities. Speak to them today.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) … Where the solution you’re looking for needs talented post-graduate internships that are working to clearly defined objectives within a time frame, then you should look into this well established and credible way to engage with universities. (KTP (supported by the Technology Strategy Board) is a UK-wide programme helping businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base. Go to for full details and funding opportunities.)

LOCALISATION … By default your local university reflects the environment in which it exists. Likewise, business springs from a region’s natural advantages. In an increasingly globalised economy, it still makes sense to develop original thinking locally. There’s nothing to replace getting your feet wet if you’re a Marine Engineer!

MEETINGS … Putting heads together as a matter of routine is an essential success factor in any project, no less with a university partnership. With disparate and sometimes conflicting agendas, regular team meetings to update each other on progress and milestones will ensure that all parties stay focused. Of course this seems obvious to eve

NATIONAL … Thinking national is a natural conclusion that many innovators will come to. The UK has many of the most prestigious academic institutions, many with experience and capability to engage with commercial enterprises. Transitional economies, where a region is changing from industrial to information technology for instance, will definitely benefit from thinking outside the region for partners to assist with innovation.

OPPORTUNITY … While there are many advantages to be a smaller sized business, sometimes it can get lonely out there. Partnering with a university can have the benefit of strengthening the base of your business while still maintaining your business independence.

PRESTIGE … Your business may have a solid track-record, but where you may count the years passing in years, Universities must count in decades. Many in centuries. Heritage brings prestige, and commerce flows better when businesses can show (by way of reasonable association) that they make good partners. Banks and other partners will take your business more seriously when you are hooked up with a university.

QUADRATICS … There are just four key players in any university partnership. Firstly there’s your BUSINESS, which essentially operates for profit. Most usually, your skills and experience are dominated by successfully solving problems for the second player, your CUSTOMER. Universities are large, well established institutions with a multilayered operational model. When you’re working with them, there are two key players you must become familiar with. The first is your partner or ACADEMIC. They are passionate about their subject, and have less interest in application and commercialisation. The fourth cornerstone in this relationship is the one you need to forge with the COMMERCIAL team. Their responsibility is to ensure universities and businesses follow procedures and attain goals. Make them your allies. They have one foot in each side of the camp. They keep everyone focused on the core agenda, and can be extremely helpful when it comes to setting schedules, getting funding and keeping on track.

RESEARCH … Business is business. Not every organisation has the time, nor opportunity, to focus, like universities do, on research. A business's priority is to solve problems efficiently and turn new ideas into profitable commercial streams. Universities on the other hand are primarily concerned with the stuff of how things work, materials, new processes and research. Both parties benefit from working together.

SELECTION … Do select your partner carefully. Different universities have different capabilities. Not just because of their regional influences, but also on account of their historical development. Each has its strengths. Universities that have their roots in the old-style polytechnics have the advantage of fostering a can-do hands on approach to training their engineers. Solent University for instance, has a well deserved reputation for excellence when it comes to industrial placements.

TIMING … In industry, timing is everything. Profit and success comes from spotting and realising the opportunity not early, and definitely not late. The perfect time to reap maximum rewards is when all the conditions are right. We believe that now is the time for small and medium enterprises to engage with universities in the UK. Doors are opening. Motivation is high. Resistance it receding.

UNIVERSITY … Traditionally universities may have an image of being lofty and inaccessible. This is not true of the contemporary British university. In fact, Britain is arguably the most progressive country when it comes to how effectively its universities engage with industry.

VITAL STATISTICS … Did you know:
(Source: National Stem Centre)

  1. The South East accounts for 12% of all Engineering employment and 15% of all Engineering establishments in the UK, employing 157,000 people in 10,640 establishments.
  2. The largest sectors in terms of employment are electronics, mechanical equipment and metal products, with above average concentrations of employment in the electronics and electrical sectors compared to the UK.
  3. 19% of Engineering establishments in the South East reported skill gaps, slightly lower than the proportion within the UK (21%).
  4. Employers in the South East expected skills gaps for professionals, skilled trades (crafts) and technicians would have the most significant effect on their business.
  5. The main skills cited as lacking in employees were technical engineering skills at all levels; 68% of those Engineering establishments in the South East reporting skills gaps.
  6. The three main technical skills gaps for the Engineering sector in the South East were CNC machine operations, computer aided design (CAD), and welding skills.
  7. The generic skills gaps highlighted were key or core personal skills (12%), management skills (6%), marketing or selling skills (4%) and IT/computer skills (3%).
  8. Together with changes in skill requirements, qualifications demanded by employers are likely to change, with an increasing requirement for intermediate and higher level qualifications. Over the period 2008-2014 there is expected to be a net requirement within the Engineering industry in the South East for about 5,000 people at NVQ
  9. Level 2, about 5,000 people at NVQ Level 3, about 5,000 at NVQ Level 4 and about 1,300 at NVQ Level 5 or above.
  10. WHY? … Before you do take your business down the path of engaging with universities, it’s always prudent to sit back and ask the big question “Why?” This question can be annoying when your son or daughter ask it too many times, but its stem is the basis for all key decisions making, as it has everything to do with purpose, and purpose drives successful business. Be clear from the outset that your planned engagement with your chosen university is truly aligned with the core purpose of your business.

YES … If you haven’t already, you should investigate further how your business could benefit from collaborating with one of your local (or even national) universities.

ZZZ … Sleep on it. Don’t rush into a partnership with a university. Do it for the right reasons. Seek to measure your successes early. Dont’ get caught up in the flurry of excitement that comes with new ideas. Think it over. Discuss it with your team. Review your thinking. And if it still feels right … go for it.

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