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Getting the most out of research and innovation

Practical ways to make sure that research and innovation benefit both businesses and university. Read more about this, including the full report, here

Getting started
  • Universities contain extensive expertise and knowledge: it may not be necessary for them to embark on a major research programme before offering useful information and guidance for a business.
  • Try contacting the business development or enterprise offices of nearby universities, explaining your interests and identifying the next industry open day to find out more.
  • Getting started often depends on research collaborators finding each other and realising the scope for working together. But finding who does what within a university is not always easy – nor is identifying the right university. Good engagement often begins from chance encounters – but it need not be so. Research Councils can play a useful role in helping to find academics with the necessary skills, expertise and mind-set. 

Tips for success
  • Successful collaborations are clear at the outset about what impact they want to achieve.
  • Ensure the university team are able to understand how the collaboration can help the company.
  • Personal relationships and mutual understanding are usually critical – time and understanding are required to build links, which can be weakened or broken by changes of personnel.
  • Proximity often helps – both at organisational and individual levels – and having a presence within the university through secondments or other staff exchanges (including PhD placements in the business) and regular visits in both directions can improve the quality of collaboration. Proximity can also make it easier for the academics to develop a clearer understanding of the commercial needs of the activity – which may increase the chance of successful outcomes from a business perspective.
Points to watch
  • Universities have an open culture—this can conflict with commercial sensitivity.
  • Publication is often a requirement for universities (academic literature, theses, project reports).
  • Handling intellectual property (IP) is often a key area for negotiation. The ‘Lambert toolkit’ may be helpful.
  • Academic researchers’ and university administrators’ business and market knowledge may be limited.
  • Breaking a project into phased parts reduces risk, but may be incompatible with university staff and student contracts.
Seeing the benefits
  • Absorbing and embedding new knowledge within the business pose a distinct set of challenges.
  • Not all research will be successful—and success may take a long time, so much so that when it comes the university contribution is hard to perceive. This is one good reason to review value one or two years after completion of a research project, to track impact which might otherwise be undetected and to assess the lessons learned in longer-term perspective.
  • Even a negative result is still a result and may be as useful and informative as the result which was hoped for.


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