What Industry wants from Academia

Personal observations from (day 2 of) the “What Industry wants from Academia” conference, 8 May, arranged by PraxisUnico (https://connect.innovateuk.org/web/what-industry-wants-from-academia-event).

David Docherty described the launch and ambitions of the NCUP (www.ncub.co.uk) and described their aspirations to make the site a ‘go to’ destination at the centre of a community that is well networked and spans academia and business.  In passing> He observed that there are still implicit issues within big companies about how best to manage the university collaboration agenda.  There’s also still a need to improve the detail of data to underpin policy decision-making and part of this will be their production of an annual ‘State of the Relationship Report’, commissioned by HEFCE.  At the core of NCUP’s activity will be their brokerage activities – “the most important if we can pull it off”.

He also coined the term ‘dark IP’ – that IP which resides in academia, is currently invisible, but if accessed could provide huge value for UK plc, “the IP that nobody’s recognised as valuable”.

Interestingly, he made the point that it is the large companies and their supply and value chains that contribute so significantly to UK prosperity.  Hence too much focus on the ‘SME rhetoric’ runs the danger of losing sight of how important working closely with large industry (and their supply chains) will be to academia.  That raises the opportunity of academia finding ways of working simultaneously with big companies and with the smaller companies that make up their supply chain.

Next up was Rosa Wilkinson of the Intellectual Property Office.  She explained the background of the Lambert review of business-university collaboration (www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/lambert_review_final_450.pdf from 2003).  She also described their work reviewing the state of play today and the launch of their review document “Collaborative Research between Business and Universities: The Lambert Toolkit 8 years on”, (www.ipo.gov.uk/pro-ipresearch/ipresearch-year/ipresearch-year-2013.htm).

The parallel sessions consisted of companies describing themselves, what they seek from academia and the lessons from the past.  Between the differences some common messages emerged:

  • Most are focusing on creating fewer, stronger relationships with carefully selected strategic academic partners
  • All recognise the excellence of the research base in the UK, but there is increasing concern about its cost.
  • Building and maintaining dynamic relationships is a never-ending job – especially as new academics bringing new capabilities are continuously emerging.

The differences that emerged arise primarily from the differences in industry dynamics – from FMCG with short product life cycles out to big pharma with research to commercialisation periods measured in decades.  Points of note that I picked up during the day:

Coulton Legge of Reckitt Benckiser flagged up the importance of academics bringing good presentation skills to bear in dealing with the company’s senior management – it can be key to success in building senior management buy-in.

Michael Duncan of P&G showed the amazingly wide range of technologies in which they are interested – and the need therefore for the partnering university to figure out how to field an appropriately multi-disciplinary team able to address real issues quickly and effectively.  P&G is also managing a balance of global and local, recognising the importance of proximity in building effective working relationships and developing the breadth of links from research towards education and recruitment.

Michael Carver of Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies presented a very different perspective – as contract R&D providers they are most interested in innovation in how research is actually done.  The activity is the target of efforts to improve.

Mark Jeffries of Rolls Royce described their network of University Technology Centres.  But his key message was the importance of universities building the capacity to collaborate with other universities across the world to bring the very best to bear in research.  It’s an international game and needs the best in the world to collaborate – and if you don’t then others will.

Jaguar LandRover’s approach is to co-locate half their research (~200 engineers) on-campus through the creation of the National Automotive Innovation Campus at Warwick (www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/16392_million_national/).  They also use their in-house capabilities to span the gap between agile and creative SMEs and the work of larger suppliers who can provide global reach.  Academics can help in both instances.

And so to the final plenary sessions – Professor Sir John O’Reilly on “Leveraging the value of UK research and innovation” and Alison Campbell on ‘Industry and academia – what now?”

O’Reilly rejoiced in the fact that the World Economic Forum rates the UK’s university-industry collaboration second only to the Swiss(Page 361 within  www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GCR_Report_2011-12.pdf).  He also flagged up the importance of QR funding supporting research income from business (http://www.hefce.ac.uk/whatwedo/rsrch/howfundr/business/) and the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund which has run for two of its three years now, (www.hefce.ac.uk/whatwedo/rsrch/howfundr/ukresearchpartnershipinvestmentfund20122015/).   And, finally, Alison Campbell summarised the conference as a success and invited all to PraxisUnico’s Annual conference.

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