So, the day after enjoying the champagne to celebrate winning the grant for your new Research Centre, it’s time to start thinking about the follow-on funding. So soon? Yes, immediately!
That was just one of the messages to emerge from a fascinating Panel Session that brought together the Directors of three very different research centres that span several generations of Research Council thinking about the development and continuation of funded centres.
Professor Ian Hutchings heads up the Inkjet Research Centre (www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/research/irc/), the first cycle of which ran through 2005 to 2010. Bringing together a consortium of direct competitors in the sector, the centre researches questions of fundamental interest that would not otherwise be addressed.
Jennifer Schooling is Director of the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (http://www-smartinfrastructure.eng.cam.ac.uk/), half funded by the Technology Strategy Board and focused on deploying technologies into an industry famous for its wafer-thin margins. And Chris Rider’s Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Large-Area Electronics (www-cikc.eng.cam.ac.uk/epsrc-centre-for-innovative-manufacturing-in-large-area-electronics/), launched in October 2013, is a multi-university collaboration led by the CIKC, www.cikc.org.uk which itself was an EPSRC funded Centre, with a core grant finishing in December 2012 and a continuing focus on printed and plastic electronics through new funding sources.
Several key messages were echoed by all:
- You must show success in your prior endeavours – why else would they back you?
- Simultaneously, you need to show that the second and subsequent generations of the work are exploring something new and something of great value.
Success and metrics are an obvious concern, but actually there are no clear and consistent definitions of success, nor are metrics imposed. Indeed, in some instances, the metrics initially promised are never revisited. However, there is no doubt that the research must deliver – both in papers and conference presentations and also to industrial collaborators. And responding to their needs with useful insights and technologies is just one place where you can enrol your industrial collaborators as your greatest supporters.
Finding the next and new direction to justify further funding will be tough – ‘the low-hanging fruit will have been picked’. Again, working closely with your industry supporters helps here. The industry will almost certainly have moved on during the first tranche of funding. So what matters now, what are the new questions, where do you need to look next? And how valuable will your new answers be?
Some Centres have had great success using roadmapping. The process helps build dialogue between industrialists and researchers, the map shows the significance of current research and how it links to market issues, and the thinking about the future envisages a number of directions that could turn into the next research agenda.
How else can your industrial collaborators help? As supporters they are at their most convincing when they are very specific in describing the value and importance of your work. They’ll be best able to do this if you involve them in the formulation of the research agenda and work programme. (By the way, boilerplate letters of support are useless – or worse). Why not ask your industrial partners to liaise with the Research Councils? The Councils are always trying to identify future directions and key issues so they’ll welcome a cogent position from industry. See, for example, the EPSRC’s Strategic Advisory Teams (www.epsrc.ac.uk/about/governance/sats/Pages/teams.aspx)
Think also about industrial players outside your immediate collaborators. One approach is to build and support a network of companies that meet for discussions and interaction with each other and the researchers. As well as appreciating the intrinsic value, such companies are usually happy to help you to discern critical industry issues for the future. Think about the ‘ecosystem’ around your research in order to find compelling reasons for the next big step. Consider also the Knowledge Transfer Networks – they’ll give you focused access to interested and engaged industrialists. (www.innovateuk.org/-/knowledge-transfer-networks)
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships provide an ideal way to cement a relationship between your research group and an industrial collaborator, especially if you’re trying to involve an SME. (See http://engineerimpact.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/knowledge-transfer-partnerships-disseminating-embedding-and-using-research-for-real/ for more information here)
For the researchers in Smart Infrastructure, industrial deployment is such a key focus, that the team is developing specific processes to get industry engaged and involved – so think about how you help your partners and the best ways of doing so.
Research Centres also develop assets, be they capital equipment or intellectual property. Surely this offers a stream of funding to support the research? Forget it for IP. The timescales for bringing research-based IP to an income stream are usually longer than the life of the centre. Complications of ownership and attribution of income make even minor contributions unlikely.
The significance and value of large capital assets are very sector-specific. In some cases expensive and rare facilities can provide cash flow, either as a resource made available to industry or as a basis for consultancy operations. More importantly, the right equipment can provide a foundation for the next generation of research and hence a compelling proposition to the Research Council for the cost-effectiveness of the next Centre.
Consultancy might be another option, but one that’s hard to manage. How does one manage priorities, cash flow and ownership of developing IP? Feasible, but difficult.
One area of importance is the availability of some uncommitted resource within the Centre to pursue the short-term imperatives and opportunities. If the Co-Investigators have their research teams fully committed then the Centre Director lacks resource to address things such as impact opportunities, the crafting of new proposals and all the activity associated with liaison with the industry partners. Therefore it’s vital to create and reserve some resource that can be deployed as needed. Indeed EPSRC has recognised this, to the point of advising it and, in some instances, requiring it, especially around the impact agenda
But what if it goes wrong and there is a gap in funding? How do you keep the team together? One answer is EU or perhaps HEIF funding, but this tends to be for later Technology Readiness Levels than most research centres. One option might be the Isaac Newton Trust that provides bridging funding (www.newtontrust.cam.ac.uk/research/index.html) – but you’ll need to be able to demonstrate when other sources of funding will kick in.
So that’s it then.
Oh yes, – and why that point about starting immediately to think about subsequent funding?
In fact, what you will do next, with whom and how will shape all the actions from your current research. And if you leave it too late you no longer have time to lay the foundations for the next round, to create the successes that will illustrate the value, or to discern the new directions that are so essential, to build the networks and relationships for the future. So start thinking about it now.
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, managed well, can lead to great research, using real data in the real world, can help companies in the most pragmatic of ways and can provide the key people involved with valuable career experience.
The key structure in KTP is the partnership: i) a business partner that needs knowledge, ii) an academic partner that has knowledge, and iii) the ‘Associate’ who transfers the knowledge. The core purpose of the KTP is configuring the basic research and applying it to the business needs. In the best cases this highlights more questions that drive more research, both applied and basic.
Jan Stringer, the regional adviser for KTPs set the stage, explaining how it all works and dispelling a few old myths. One of the huge advantages of the KTP scheme is its flexibility – if the programme needs to change for good research or commercial reasons then the flexibility is there to do so. So, although the objective of a KTP is the application of research, even in applied research this flexibility means that projects are more robust and there is a greater likelihood of the partners getting what they seek.
Jan’s primary role is to help each partner get what they want, whether that be the Associate shaping their career by getting the training and experience they want, the researcher getting their papers prioritised and written as well as helping the company derive commercial benefit from the knowledge transfer. And in some instances, Associates can work up a PhD during the partnership. There’s typically a specific budget for the professional development of the Associate.
The hit rate for winning KTP funding is upward of 80%. If you’ve already got a CASE or an i-CASE award the opportunity is even more compelling
The KTP model has developed over the years and a recent assessment by the Council for Industry and Higher Education CIHE found that it complies with all the principles of open innovation good practice. (www.ktponline.org.uk/cihe-ktp-study-report)
The KTP project aims to covers a range of technology readiness levels, sitting as a bridge between the basic research typically funded by the Research Councils and the pure development work funded by companies. It fits into that gap identified by so many as ‘the valley of death’.
Although technology makes up the majority of Jan Stringer’s KTP projects there are exceptions – like the religious studies academics helping a UK investment house to understand the requirements of Muslim customers.
KTP’s emerge by various routes; companies contacting researchers directly, companies contacting the TSB or by academics and potential associates seeking new ways to disseminate their research. But in each case, the best starting point is to contact Jan Stringer to discuss the fit and feasibility of the project and she is only too happy to help customise the project to meet the needs of the programme and the partners. (Jan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Professor Robert Mair (Head of civil and environmental engineering, Cambridge ) then provided an insight into the success of the KTP that he and his team have enjoyed working with CrossRail. Embedding fibre-optics during the construction of the massive shafts for tunnel excavation in London has enabled a better understanding of the design implications, design margins and hence the opportunities for saving millions of pounds in future developments. The KTP associates were embedded in the Crossrail project team and created invaluable date that is underpinning continuing research at Cambridge. As well as acquiring data that would otherwise be unavailable, the team has published four journal papers so far, generated considerable international interest, created the material for a spectacular IMPACT case study and further developed the strong relationships with Crossrail.
Finally, Dr Tariq Masood provided an Associate’s viewpoint based on his work between Cranfield, Loughborough and Rolls Royce. He described developing a service knowledge backbone that enabled Rolls Royce design engineers to use the massive amounts of operational data collected from the engines. He supervised a multinational team of software engineers from three different countries, working with people in RR and Cranfield, providing validation across different countries. He and the academic team generated two conference papers and two publications from the two year project.
Discussion ensued covering the availability of funds for professional development, travel and conferences (they do exist). It emerged that although one might imagine larger companies are better partners than SMEs, the focus of SMEs on a tight domain is often a help in maintaining momentum to embed the research in the company. SMEs also often offer a broader range of experiences for the Associate.
Professor Mair confirmed that the average of 0.5 days per week spent on a KTP collaboration is a realistic commitment, but pointed out that this is very much part of running an effective and interesting research project.
Fears about IP were raised, with Jan Stringer confirming that only if the publication needs of the academics are respected and the equitable management of IP is in place will the project go ahead. The KTP is always set up as a win for all partners with Jan helping to manage the projects so that partners get what they want.
The success of the programme as a whole is a testament to the flexibility and robustness of the KTP as a means of getting research disseminated, embedded and used.
(Thanks also to Dominik Deradjat for help preparing this post, and if you’d like a copy of the slides, please contact Charles Boulton, cb683 (at) cam.ac.uk)
Working as a consultant through Cambridge Enterprise or leveraging the practitioner team through IfM Education and Consultancy Services were the options explored in detail in the most recent seminar run by “Inspiring Research through Industrial Collaboration” and the Research Capability Programme.
Paul Seabright described how to work through Cambridge Enterprise, linking also to an engaging video that describes how they work (www.enterprise.cam.ac.uk/university-community/consultancy-services). The volume and value of consulting through CE continues to increase every year and the size of the projects is also increasing. Although most assignments arise from companies directly contacting the academic in the first instance, CE is happy to provide advice – even if the academic then decides not to use CE’s services.
Hugh Hunt went on to describe the successes he has had working through Cambridge Enterprise, and some of the difficulties he’s experienced consulting independently. Hugh also described some of the projects he’s done, emphasising how CE enables an international reach by managing tax, contracts, exchange rates and liability issues in working as far afield as the US and Australia. Hugh also values CE’s help in working on projects which are not necessarily big – but in which there is plenty that could go wrong and give rise to some serious liabilities – see for example, building the bouncing bomb: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ik9vCg-xRr4 ! Hugh also puts the interesting consultancy projects on his web page (www2.eng.cam.ac.uk/~hemh/) and finds that they attract people and projects. In fact, some projects that start as consultancy then turn into interesting research.
Peter Templeton described the different model of IfM Education and Consultancy Services (www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/services/overview/) as an alternative for academics wanting to scale their dissemination work up in scope and reach. ECS has developed a network of very experienced and well-qualified consulting practitioners. As a research area develops, the academics work closely with the practitioners, consulting to clients and developing both the research and the methodologies for wider use. As the methodologies become more formalised so the practitioners take them over and apply them in industry. And then funding from industry covers not only the consulting time, but also contributes to the underlying intellectual property so recognising and rewarding the researchers who developed the initial ideas and worked them up for application. Although most of their work today is in management consultancy and policy advice, ECS is exploring how to support more technical consulting work.
So if you think you’d like to work with a team that’s ready to multiply your efforts contact Peter at ECS (email@example.com) and if you’d like a packaged and hassle-free way of consulting as a sole-practitioner then contact Paul at Cambridge Enterprise (firstname.lastname@example.org).
And if you’d like copies of their slides, contact Charles Boulton (email@example.com)
Where do you go for funding that great business you’d like to start – and what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?
Two people who know the answers to these questions shared them with an audience from across the University Schools of Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences and the Clinical Medicine.
Anne Dobrée, Head of Seed Funds at Cambridge Enterprise, described the funding landscape and the options. She started with the bad news – the venture capitalists and banks are not your starting point. VCs have pulled back from seed funding, except the occasional foray into digital or consumer businesses with rapid returns. But, particularly around Cambridge, there are myriad sources, from friends and families, to angels and seedfunds. The trick is to use your networks – find somebody who knows somebody who can introduce you and your idea. Don’t send it to a prospective investor cold – it’ll join the myriad others in the bin.
Perhaps the most robust way to create a cashflow to support the business, if you can, is good old-fashioned sales. And you give away less of the business.
Anne then covered Cambridge Enterprise’s Follow-on Fund (NB – the next deadline for an expression of interest is 8th January) www.enterprise.cam.ac.uk/university-community/funding/2014/1/epsrc-iaa-follow/, their Seed fund and Enterprise Fund. And, most importantly, don’t forget Cambridge Enterprise’s capacity and interest in helping you to get started, to find mentors and sources of funding and to act as a sounding board as your plans come together (www.enterprise.cam.ac.uk/university-community/seed-funds/process/)
Then Darrin Disley, CEO of Horizon Discovery, spoke on the attitudes and behaviour of a successful entrepreneur. A YouTube video of his talk “Mindsets and Motivations” can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=e661dD-1nyc. He also talked about the profound importance of staying lean and focused, the lean start-up. See also Eric Ries’ book, “The Lean Startup” and site at http://theleanstartup.com/. Finally Darrin discussed the power of the business model behind Horizon Discovery and how an approach that aligns the interests of owners, investors and customers has enabled such stunning growth.
And if you’d like a book on the subject, try “Show Me the Money” by locals Alan Barrell, David Gill and Martin Rigby. It’s accessible, easy to navigate and, published in September, it’s right up to date.
Are you an undergrad who’d like to work on real challenges with the Dyson engineering team?
Might you be interested in a three, six or twelve month internship within Dyson’s Research, Design and Development group, generating ideas, sketching, prototyping, and testing.
To move faster, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with a CV & cover letter that states the following:-
• No. of UCAS points & how they were gained at ‘A’ level/Scottish Highers or other equivalent qualifications (Excluding General Studies)
• That you have the right to live and work in the EU.
• Whether you are interested in the 3, 6 or 12 month placement
How do you get your technology developed from its research status, maybe funded by a grant, to a form robust enough for commercial support?
On 26 November, Julian Peck of Cambridge Enterprise provided an excellent description of the many sources of support for researchers bridging the gap from a research grant to commercial funding. He also provided a comprehensive set of notes.
He pointed out that, for the researcher moving towards commercialisation, the landscape is constantly evolving and researchers need to explore many sources of help, not all of it financial.
As well as Cambridge Enterprise’s follow-on funding, Julian signposted the Royal Academy of Engineering (www.raeng.org.uk/research/researcher/eef/default.htm) and the Royal Society schemes (royalsociety.org/grants/schemes/brian-mercer-feasibility/ and royalsociety.org/grants/schemes/brian-mercer-innovation/) .
For those of you looking for financial help and working from EPSRC-funded research, Cambridge Enterprise’s next “Follow-On Funding round is accepting expressions of interest until 8th January. (www.enterprise.cam.ac.uk/university-community/funding/2014/1/epsrc-iaa-follow/)
The Technology Strategy Board offers support via a series of competition – but note that you’ll need a company partner to lead the work. Use the Knowledge Transfer Networks as a source of insight and to understand the hot topics and priorities. If you have an SME partner then check out the TSB’s SMART awards (www.innovateuk.org/-/smart), six funding rounds a year with the next round closing on 30th January.
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (www.ktponline.org.uk/) are a good and focused route to getting a capability into a company to solve a real problem, so developing the track record necessary to pursue commercialisation.
Michael Simmons flagged up the STFC programmes – contact him at mps48 at cam.ac.uk.
Julian’s most important point was that as you get into the ‘translational space’ you will find it much less a case of looking for well-defined grants and much more a case of opportunistically identifying and following routes to develop and prove your ideas.
So schemes such as iTeams (http://iteamsonline.org/), ETECH (www.cfel.jbs.cam.ac.uk/programmes/etech/) and Cambridge Venture Projects (www.jbs.cam.ac.uk/business/student-projects/mba-cambridge-venture-project/) become useful tools in exploring commercial viability. Mike Bradley flagged up the British Library – see, for example, their business and market research resources (www.bl.uk/bipc/resmark/index.html).
The EPSRC’s Impact Acceleration Account has a portfolio of ways to help – contact Claire Higgett
Cambridge Enterprise themselves are a valuable source of guidance, especially at the early stages when you’re establishing your strategy and planning how you will manage your intellectual property. They can also point you at the latest features of the ever-changing landscape.
(BTW, if you’d like a copy of Julian’s notes, contact Julian direct, or I’m happy to send them through (cb683 at cam.ac.uk))
So what’s involved in starting up a company and setting out in business, especially if you want to grow rapidly? Where do you turn for that early funding?
Come along to find out: Friday 13th December, 12:00 – 14:00,
Venue: Seminar Room 2, Institute for Manufacturing
Dr Darrin Disley, CEO of Horizon Discovery, recently recognised by the Deloitte Technology ‘Fast 50’ for its 1027% growth rate over five years, will relate his experience and lessons learned in setting up Horizon
Anne Dobrée, Head of Seed Funds at Cambridge Enterprise will describe the seed fund landscape and the funds available from Cambridge Enterprise
This is the second in a series of seminars co-promoted by the Engineering Departments theme of “Inspiring research through industrial collaboration” and the IfM’s Research Capability Development Programme
Numbers limited – so if you’d like to come, please contact Charles Boulton (email@example.com) to register your interest and your request for lunch.