Engaging business with your research: Not what you think?

In today’s blog, Shonagh McEwan shares learning from our recent event ‘Engaging Business with your Research’.

Dr Jamie Cross (Associate Dean – Knowledge Exchange and Impact, CAHSS) introduced our first Knowledge Exchange Learning Lunch of the semester, on ‘Engaging Business with your Research’. He highlighted that now, more than ever, new spaces are opening up for collaborations with business and encouraged CAHSS academics to be part of those opportunities. He reminded us that business is diverse; from small-scale industries, social enterprises, co-operatives to large companies, and that funding is increasing for engaging with business.

Understanding who you are collaborating with

Our first panellist, Dr Kate Carter (ESALA), explained how she is working with Wheatley Group, Scotland’s largest social housing provider. When the initial opportunity emerged via the business development team, Kate had to move quickly to assemble other academics and a credible proposal. The team comprised seven researchers. That breadth and depth of academic expertise, alongside being part of a large, reputable University, helped win the funding from the construction sector.

Collaborating with a business organisation requires a good understanding of the pace and timescales that business operate within. Kate was clear that there is an expectation of delivery under time pressure. She also emphasised the need to be flexible when working with business organisations that are going through change of structure and personnel. There were also surprises, such as different meanings of terms such as ‘innovation’. She advised not to make assumptions about what these terms can mean within a business context, especially as businesses can be risk averse and academics’ innovative ideas, however good, may perceived as too risky.

Small steps to link your research expertise with business

Dr Kasia Banas (PPLS) had little experience of industry engagement, but we were left in no doubt that her positive attitude and proactivity was key to developing her collaboration. Kasia’s opportunity was serendipitous, arising from an informal conversation about her research expertise with a founder of a small Scottish start-up business, Welbot. The company benefited from Kasia’s research skills as well as her knowledge of funding schemes and professional networks. For example, Kasia was able to bring in an academic expert on mobile health from the University of Aberdeen into the project.

It started with them working together on a small piece of consultancy and then, with help from the ESRC Business Booster seed fund, Kasia led a week-long sprint with Welbot to help develop the product using her psychology expertise. The mutual benefit did not end there. Kasia’s students took part in testing and analysing the product and in the future Kasia hopes to connect postgraduate students more closely with industry, as a way of using and developing their research and knowledge in practical ways. The research team will also gain access to data and potential new research projects.

Creating impact through a passion

Dr Gianluca Raccagni (HCA) is clearly passionate about his research and the gaming industry. Based on his research and specialist knowledge, Gianluca knew he might have potential for impact within the historical war games industry. Gianluca knew he had to start networking with business, and so organised a roundtable at Blackwell’s bookshop on historical games and invited some games designers. The venue was no coincidence, Blackwell’s are developing their games sections.

Gianluca received funding through the Innovation Vouchers from Interface. He created an historical war game and interactive display based on his research and exhibited this at the Claymore War Games show in Edinburgh. The display won Best Display Award due to games companies recognising how their historical accuracy challenged the market in a positive way. Next year, Gianluca is organising a games day at Stirling Castle, creating stories for gaming based on real life historical scenarios that involves collaborating with Historic Scotland and may have potential for impact with the Scottish tourist industry.

What support can you expect?

Clare Sowney, Business Development Manager for CAHSS, concluded with by setting out how the Knowledge Exchange and Impact Team can support you to engage with business. Indeed, Clare was involved in each of the projects outlined by the panellists through one-to-one advice and support. We can help with:

  • One to one bespoke support and advice
  • Identifying funding and partnership opportunities
  • Brokering connections
  • Intellectual property advice (never feel that you have to negotiate this on your own)
  • General inquiries
  • Training.

Next steps

Take a small step that is right for you! There is no one way to start engaging with business. Our panellists all used different strategies. We hope this blog post gives you some inspiration! You might also be interested in our How To… Engage with Industry guide.

If you would like to explore an idea, however embryonic, please contact Clare Sowney, Business Development Manager for CAHSS on clare.sowney@ed.ac.uk.

Meet the Team: Clare Sowney

Shonagh McEwan is Knowledge Exchange Adviser in the Knowledge Exchange and Impact Team.

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