Dr Dale Heywood, Director of Studies, MSc Entrepreneurship at the University of Liverpool Management School, draws on her combined experience as an entrepreneur and a university lecturer, to consider the importance of ‘business and university’ collaboration...
Businesses + University + Government collaborative projects are often referred to as one of the solutions to regional development. This trio partner perspective is known as the Triple Helix model. Almost half a century ago the possible benefits of universities and industry working together more closely was put forward and an array of policy incentives were introduced.
Here in the North West of England there are many successful examples of how to create the dynamic environment that is required to bring industry and higher education institutions together, to co-operate on innovations, on research and on knowledge transfers that benefit all institutional sectors.
Businesses and Universities Misunderstood Each Other
I was an entrepreneur for 30 years and only in 2012 did I become what you may regard as 'an academic' so I know how business people can form the wrong impression of universities and of their value. I thought everyone who worked in a university must be a genius! Only some are. It is this artificial separation that compounds the barriers to collaboration between industry and universities. The language is different; the culture is different; the expectations are different. These myths pervade both business and academia but it needn't be this way.
Universities and Industry Advantages
Universities can serve their local community business neighbours through many established initiatives. Some have graduate placement and internship opportunities, work based projects, consultancy projects and industry problem identification projects. These are the sort of things students now expect to be involved with as part of their higher education experience and learning. All these require local businesses both large and small to be open to having students working in, or on their businesses to find solutions to problems the owners may not have even recognised.
Small Business Charter
Four North West University business schools have very recently been acknowledged for their work in helping small and medium sized firms in their areas and successfully gained the prestigious Small Business Charter (SBC) status. These were awarded by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Some of the criteria for SBC is specific to the on-going relationships between HEIs and small businesses. This is just one measure which shows universities have been successfully paying increased additional attention towards smaller businesses. This has the potential to have maximum impact in the North West.
Start the Conversation
Conversations have to be started by someone and should be multi directional. You talk, I listen, I talk and you listen. It sounds simple because actually it is very simple. Access points for businesses interested in opening up a dialogue with universities are well supported. There are formal methods where knowledge transfer departments can guide you to the best people.
These are all very easy to find with a quick web search. Many universities have Business Development Managers in post to make it easier to locate the people best able to help any business. There is also the option of calling someone up or following up after a meeting.
Networks and Talent Sharing
Industry and universities have a huge diversity of people with vastly different interests. In many cases, universities are the largest employer in their area. The researchers and scholars that are employed in our universities are of course from a vast array of specialisms and disciplines.
Universities can be thought of as the intellectual supermarkets, there to solve business problems across any sector and every intellectual department. Businesses both large and small, can equally be thought of as socio-economic pioneers furthering the region's growth and innovation through job creation.
Higher Education has Evolved
Increasingly students expect some work experience built into their degree programmes and universities have been very good at accommodating this. It's not just MBAs; we have architects, engineers, lawyers, historians, geologists and accountancy placements to find. Doctoral research students also want a more practical entrepreneurial element in their education. Perhaps the rate of change within the Higher Education sector has escaped many established businesses so now is the time to reopen the conversation with a mutual language of economic prosperity for the North West and a shared purpose of keeping the North West of England the innovation heartland it has been for centuries. There is nowhere more entrepreneurial and creative than right here. We have become reluctant to acknowledge that over the past 50 years so its significance has been overlooked. That has perhaps contributed to universities and industry competing against each other instead of collaborating as partners.
For more information on Research and Business Collaboration with the University of Liverpool please contact:
Business Gateway, University of Liverpool
T: 0845 0700 064