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Collaboration gets results in unlocking innovation

The UK Science and Technology Framework reiterates the importance of science and innovation in driving economic growth. It recognises university business collaborations are a crucial component - in both realising economic recovery and positioning the UK as a global R&D leader​. The accompanying independent review sees such partnerships as an important innovation driver. While acknowledging challenges persist, it calls for support to improve connections.

The NCUB aims to make the UK the best place in the world for university business collaboration. We acknowledge the challenges: our survey of over 4,000 businesses showed identifying a partner remains a constraint for almost half of the businesses. ​ To make it easier to make connections NCUB developed a free-to-use collaboration platform, konfer. It simplifies UK R&D and speeds up the process of getting conversations started.   ​  

Committed to knowledge exchange

Like all UK Higher Education Institutes, City, University of London are committed to knowledge exchange (KE) and have a strategic priority to increase KE and strengthen their Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) position.

Ian Gibbs, City’s Head of Academic Enterprise, is focused on supporting all participants of KE from students through to Professors. He said: ‘Despite strong historic partnerships with many large companies, our network of external contacts is patchy, and a significant proportion of early career researchers have limited contacts.’   

An additional front door to City, University of London

Recognising their internal challenge, City’s Academic Enterprise Team were keen to trial novel approaches and thinking to find new partners. The team were quick to grasp the value konfer could offer as an additional ‘front door’ for both industry and academic teams looking to connect.  

‘We committed to road-testing how konfer could support our KE and growth ambitions. For both, we need partners, and the right partners. konfer seemed like a simple solution.’ said Ian.

Direct Data Feeds (DDF)

As with every new venture there were teething problems. konfer harvests public data to provide one digital gateway to UK research, with both academic profiles and details of research. Recognising the limits of capturing public information, Ian championed City to be the first UK university to establish a Direct Data Feed (DDF) from the university's information system (CRIS) into konfer.

Moving to a direct data feed improved City’s representation by a factor of 30 – profiled academics grew from 23 to 678, and more than 11,000 City research publications. The direct data feed maintains real-time information about City’s capabilities, giving even easier access to potential collaborators. The konfer team is also working with other UK universities to support DDFs.   

Strategic approach

Along with Dr Chris Child, Associate Dean for Employability, and supported by the SLT, Ian adopted a strategic approach to konfer and decided to ‘get in right’ with the School of Science & Technology, before rolling it out across the university. City and konfer piloted several initiatives starting with support at a Corporate Engagement Event in 2022. There, businesses used konfer to find and connect with university experts quickly - supporting new connections within the university from existing business partners. There is now an events page on konfer to promote other university-industry events with positive responses.  

Together City and konfer developed ‘Collaboration Clinics’ – an intensive training environment for academics looking to develop and promote quality calls for collaboration. Konfer smart-matched the calls with relevant businesses in the directory of over 72,000 innovation-ready UK companies. As a result, the School made many new industry connections, with discussions ongoing.  

The results

Ian said ’konfer is a valuable addition to our engagement toolkit. We maintain an active presence with live calls to collaborate, making it easier for businesses and others to find expertise that we have, and they need, to innovate. We have a konfer champion within the School who supports City academics to maximise the value of konfer.  And the results speak for themselves:

‘From the School of Science and Technology:

  • Senior academics posted requests for partners to explore opportunities in Computing, Civil Engineering and MedTech. They had high levels of response and discussions are ongoing off-line, with promising partnerships developing.

  • A call for potential partners to join Centre for Doctoral Training proposals stimulated multiple, continuing conversations with new connections.

  • Search for potential KTP hosts on konfer helped City University create highly relevant target lists of companies, with useful information such as investment profile and size.

  • City also used konfer to share calls for potential partners to host both under and post-graduate placements.

’We had great responses and are especially happy with those from historically hard to reach companies in sectors like games technology. My conclusions:

  • Konfer works​ 

  • Direct data feed is the way forward​ 

  • Support from colleagues at NCUB is invaluable​ 

  • City will roll out use of the platform across the institution​ 

  • Universities and companies are the key success factor​, but real value will only come with user engagement.'

Pioneering use of konfer

City University is pioneering in their use of konfer and continue to play a significant role in shaping developments on the platform.  One of the first universities to take control of their profile page, City inspired konfer to add research centres as a complementary resource starting with The Centre for Compressor Technology. They are currently reviewing all major research centres at City for future inclusion.  

Konfer and the team at City continue to work together to support the development of university business partnerships. Shivaun Meehan Konfer - communications

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