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Blog: Universities Mean Business

Blog Growth Hub business growth 28/03/2022

What to expect when working with a university

In this blog James Stancombe, GISMO Programme Manager at Lancaster University suggests how businesses can  get the best out of a  relationship with universities.

When you’re building or reinforcing the networks that will help your business to thrive, it makes sense to include universities in the mix. Tapping into the talent, thinking and technology that they offer can feel like a challenge if you haven’t worked with them before.

If you ever find yourself wondering what the future holds, who can help you to take a fresh look at your business or to think differently, where you can recruit someone who knows their way around the latest technology or how to test that new product idea, it’s likely that you have a solution on your doorstep in your local universities.

There are many different entry points into working with a university and at the top end, they can be a high draw on your resources. Finding the right person with exactly the expertise or equipment you need can also be time-consuming. It pays to start small and to understand how you can help each other.

Look for opportunities to get involved in ‘taster’ events or networking activities, such as conferences, seminars and careers fairs and to support short-term projects by individual or groups of supervised students who can help you to solve a real live problem or technology challenge.

Be on the look-out for other, fully-funded projects delivered by universities that support skills development and take-up of innovation in your business. Although no money changes hands, the currency is instead information, so be prepared for some paperwork.

At an event, make a beeline for someone from the business development team, who will connect you with the right person for the help that you need. Otherwise, ask your Growth Hub Business Growth Broker, who will have contacts with the business development team.

Once you have been put in touch with an academic, check their research interests on the university’s website and ask them about their track record of working with businesses.

At this early stage, ask yourself what you want to achieve from a collaboration and be clear about what you want it to deliver for your business. A well-defined project is a good starting point.

Be clear about the timescales involved. The academic drumbeat is slower than that of a business and it is important that they understand the time pressures upon you.

When giving them the brief, include as much information and data as you can, explain the importance of the project, how it will take your business forward, what you have considered and tried already.

Don’t be over-specific about methods and outcomes. The academic will often bring a different perspective and can tap into wider research groups too, so give them room to manoeuvre.

Consider the degree of disclosure that you can accept. You may not want proprietary information about your business and products in the public domain, but the academic may want to make capital from the collaboration and use it in teaching or research papers. Use a non disclosure agreement to define the boundaries. The university will have one, alternatively ask your Growth Hub Business Growth Broker.

Give them an opportunity to see your operations to provide some context for the work and when the project is underway, hold regular reviews with them and the business development team to monitor progress and results and to check that it is all achieving your objectives.

The key message when working with a university is to be open to innovation, whether you achieve it through student projects and placements, academic collaboration, use of their facilities and equipment, short courses or graduate recruitment.

You can try this approach with Lancaster University by joining us at a Programmes for Growth event on 20 April which showcases our business and innovation support projects and includes a tour of the science and technology facilities on campus.

And if you have a materials issue with which you need help or simply want to understand the improvement opportunities with them, take advantage of a free ‘Materials MoT’ by our GISMO project, which will put your materials to the test and suggest smarter ways in which to use them.  

For more information about the GISMO project, GISMO is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund please click here or contact James Stancombe on 01524 510464, email