1. Recruit skilled graduatesTaking on skilled graduates can be a cost-effective way of boosting your workforce. Many universities offer student placements within businesses where the students or graduates work on specific research or consultancy projects. These projects are an excellent way to find solutions to problems within your business, or a source of new ideas. They are also a great way to spot talent. We encourage businesses to think about placements as an extended, and much more robust, interview.
2. Use their expensive equipment for research and rapid prototypingHaving access to high-tech equipment is one of the great barriers to innovation for many SMEs – particularly for those involved in manufacturing. Many universities have made significant investments in high-end specialist equipment that could be used by SMEs. SMEs can get access to cutting-edge equipment, and skilled technical support for a relatively small fee, making the research and development of new products and services much easier for entrepreneurial businesses seeking to grow. Some universities have also invested in rapid-prototyping equipment such as 3D printers to enable businesses to test out ideas at a fraction of the cost, and time, it would take with using traditional methods that involve tooling up cnc machines.
3. Engage in collaborative research projectsGot an idea for a potential new product or service but need help bringing it to fruition? By working alongside universities, businesses can bring world-leading academic experts into their R&D departments at a fraction of the cost. As well as gaining access to leading thinkers, collaborative research projects open up additional resources including student researchers, top facilities and experts in intellectual property.
4.Take advantage of their contacts and global reachMany universities have established a wide ranging and high volume of contacts locally and globally. As well as recruiting top talent from abroad to study in the UK, many are now also setting up campuses in other countries and have a thorough understanding of local cultures and frameworks – they are able to steer through red tape and cultural pitfalls. By partnering with a UK university to establish links abroad, you are also benefitting from associating with an organisation with an established and trusted reputation, which opens up more doors to find business partners. At Lancaster our China Catalyst programme brings together British and Chinese companies for long-term collaboration.
5. Develop your top managerial teamUniversities are great places to develop yourself as an owner/manager and to develop your management top team to ensure your leadership is ready to guide the business through growth. As well as MBAs, management schools offer specialist development programmes specifically focussed on SMEs, which encourages managers to lift their head out of their business and work in a peer network on the future of their companies. Opportunities to develop yourself and your team can be found in other departments – including, for example, drama and the arts as well as project management and other specific skills in departments such as engineering and computing.
6. Embed yourself on campusA number of universities have developed specialist facilities on their campuses to accommodate businesses. Apart from providing an address at a prestigious and vibrant establishment, these co-location facilities ensure companies are embedded within academic departments, so creating close links with researchers. This provides an environment that encourages the exchange of ideas between academics, researchers and businesses – leading to greater potential for innovations.
7. Commercialise intellectual property from university researchUniversities are busy hubs of bright ideas. Research leads to technological innovation and better understanding of our world. Universities do not always have the means, or expertise, to exploit marketable intellectual property. Businesses can take advantage of this high-quality research by licensing discoveries and intellectual property from universities. Professor Andrew Atherton is deputy vice-chancellor of Lancaster University.
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