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The increasing importance of collaboration between universities and external partners

ucypcac4 June 2019

Dr Celia Caulcott, Vice-Provost (Enterprise)

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges that leaders and policy makers face today is to achieve sustainable socioeconomic development in the coming decades. By ‘sustainable,’ we mean growth that brings benefits and opportunities equally across all segments of society and does not come at the cost of jeopardising the environment.

The recent climate protests in London – and before that the global ‘occupy’ movement – have shown the depth of feeling around these issues.

Yet there needn’t be a dichotomy between economic growth and societal and environmental preservation. Leading economists, such as last year’s Nobel laureates William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, have shown that both can be achieved and even become mutually dependent.

This will not happen with a ‘business as usual’ approach though. It will require a significant increase in research and development (R&D) – with universities, industry, third sector and government working together to solve complex social, environmental and technological challenges.

UCL Innovation & Enterprise has responded to this challenge through the creation of the Business & Innovation Partnerships (BIP) team, which helps academics collaborate with some of the world’s leading companies, as well SMEs, NGOs and charities.

Our BIP team is made up of specialists with academic and business backgrounds who understand both the research and economic landscapes – and crucially how to marry to the two successfully. The ultimate aim is to forge multifaceted, long-lasting partnerships, which can begin to address some of the complex societal and technological challenges of our times.

One initiative that the BIP team has been involved with, that exemplifies the sort of sustainable growth we might aim for in the future, is the Global Disability Innovation (GDI) Hub.

Assistive technology for the benefit of all

Based at Here East, the GDI Hub is helping to accelerate the provision of assistive technologies to improve the lives of people with disabilities. It is formed of a research centre and a non-profit, community interest company (CIC). UCL Innovation & Enterprise helped to establish the CIC as well providing knowledge exchange funding and business advice – all of which helped ready the GDI for engagement with government and other funding partners.

In April, the GDI hub secured a £19.8 million grant from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to test new approaches to assistive products and service design, as well as the markets which support their provision globally. Crucially, the DFID funding will be 100% matched by the private sector, country governments, academic institutions, NGOs and other partners.

The GDI has a major presence in Europe, Asia and Africa – with some particularly exciting projects in Kenya. While Kenya has a burgeoning tech sector, it risks leaving people with disabilities behind. Now a project called Motivation is aiming to develop the next generation of wheelchairs there.

Clearly, improving the lives of all people with disabilities is something we as a society should absolutely be striving to achieve under any circumstances. At the same time, this project has the added benefit of effectively creating new market sectors in many developing nations – stimulating local economies and also increasing overall productivity.

Green shoots of growth

In the UK, the goal of creating sustainable and equitable economic growth is laid out in the Industrial Strategy, first published in 2017. It highlights four key Grand Challenges – Artificial Intelligence and data; Ageing society; Clean growth; and the Future of mobility – through which to focus R&D efforts.

There are promising signs that the Industrial Strategy is stimulating activity in these areas. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) recently published an online interactive map, plotting companies and projects that are answering the call of the Grand Challenges – featuring several from the UCL community.

Renault vehicle with a Bramble fuel cell range extender

For example, covering both ‘Clean growth’ and ‘Future mobility,’ UCL spinout Bramble Energy is bringing hydrogen fuel cell technology to the mainstream, ushering in a new era of truly sustainable power. Bramble’s use of printed circuit board (PCB) technology to form the structural parts of the fuel cell is driving down costs and leveraging existing manufacturing infrastructure for PCBs. Bramble is developing products and solutions for off-grid applications – both static and portable – including a range extender for electric vehicles.

Addressing ‘AI and data’ and ‘Ageing society,’ is an inspiring start-up that was born out of the entrepreneurship programme run by UCL Innovation & Enterprise at the BaseKX incubator and startup space. Fintech company Kalgera has launched an app that uses neuroscience research and machine learning to detect subtle changes in financial behaviour associated with vulnerability to fraud – particularly among older people who are most at risk.

Challenges and opportunities ahead

As well as shaping these Grand Challenges, the Industrial Strategy encompasses a goal to increase research and development (R&D) spending in the UK from current levels of around 1.7% of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP), to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. That’s at least £13 billion per year extra in R&D spending by 2027.

How are we to achieve this R&D spending uplift and where exactly is it going to come from? With public R&D funding likely to remain static, part of the solution undoubtedly lies in collaboration and external partnerships.

Interestingly, in the UK, just 400 companies carry out three quarters of all business-funded R&D. This means that there’s a wealth of untapped potential in terms of companies that aren’t engaged in significant levels of R&D but could be with greater support from universities.

Importantly, there are significant mutual benefits for both parties in pursuing joint R&D activities and innovative partnerships.

For business, there is an opportunity to stay ahead of competitors in the sector by understanding and using new technologies – potentially even as a springboard into entirely new markets and sectors. Companies can also access expert academic research capabilities that are simply not available in-house and identify potential technology licencing and spinout acquisition targets. Ultimately this can achieve significant gains in productivity and profits.

For academics, (as I explored in my previous VP View) engaging externally and collaborating with companies and organisations outside of UCL can bring a multitude of benefits to core research and teaching activities.

Indeed, collaboration with external partners was a strong theme at the recent UCL Awards for Innovation and Enterprise earlier this week.

The award winners encompassed everything from joint approaches to drug discovery with a consortium of academic and pharmaceutical partners – to a project working with organisations and companies to improve services for people with hearing loss.

As we strive to develop a culture of innovation and enterprise across UCL, these Awards can provide examples to our students, staff, alumni and partners. If you’ve been inspired by any of them, either as an academic or potential external partner, I would encourage you to get in touch with our team at UCL Innovation & Enterprise to find out how we can help you.

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/enterprise/staff 

Why engage in innovation and enterprise at UCL?

ucypcac26 February 2019

Dr Celia Caulcott, Vice-Provost (Enterprise)

For me, one of the most exciting aspects of working at UCL is being surrounded by so many brilliant minds with such an abundance of original ideas – and then seeing people realise the potential of those ideas and take them out into the wider world for the benefit of society.

There are many ways to achieve this, including partnering with charities or businesses; developing short courses for professionals and organisations; providing consultancy to industry, government and policy-makers; and commercialising discoveries.

Importantly, these activities, which UCL Innovation & Enterprise facilitates, bring tremendous benefits to academics and their research and teaching work. They can enhance and expand existing research projects, facilitating access to data and helping to frame new questions in a way that would be difficult in a purely academic context. They also help build personal and professional reputation and extend networks, introducing new people who can bring fresh perspectives to research and teaching. In some cases, innovation and enterprise can generate additional personal and institutional income too.

Occasionally, I speak with colleagues who struggle to see how innovation and enterprise are relevant to their particular areas; but I firmly believe there remains a wealth of untapped potential across all areas of UCL to help drive positive change.

In this piece, I’d like to illustrate some projects that attest to the sheer diversity of impact we already have – which might challenge some existing notions around innovation and enterprise and even provide some inspiration.

Enhancing research

You may have recently seen some powerful advertisements across the tube and transport network, as part of Holland & Barrett’s ‘Me.No.Pause’ campaign – profiling a diverse group of women going through the menopause.

The campaign was in response to research led by Professor Jessica Ringrose (Institute of Education) commissioned by the Greater London Authority (GLA), showing less than half (48%) of Londoners feel that ads adequately reflected the capital’s diversity. The ‘Me.No.Pause’ campaign is running for 12 weeks, and is bound to start a fresh debate about diversity and advertising. For Jessica it was an exciting addition to her existing research around digital feminist activism and involved adopting some new research methodologies. She is now exploring a multitude of partnership opportunities that have resulted from the campaign.

Another example of external partnerships enhancing research comes from the lab of Professor Brad Love, who was approached about using Tesco’s loyalty card data to better understand why customers switch products. Human decision making of this kind is well understood in the lab environment. But analysis of Tesco’s real-world dataset of 280,000 anonymized individuals revealed some surprising findings, going against established thinking – for example suggesting that the very act of purchasing can make novel products more desirable. The project not only helped Tesco better understand consumer behaviour, it also led to a paper in Nature Human Behaviour and funded a PhD studentship.

Transforming practices

Innovation and enterprise can have a profound impact on practices and processes in a variety of professional sectors.

UCL’s Integrated Legal Advice Clinic (UCL iLAC) takes a holistic approach to legal problems, acknowledging that they tend to cascade into other areas of life. Since 2016, over 75 students have worked with the centre’s solicitors and advisers, providing pro bono support to over 200 clients – for example in tribunals to secure benefits or overturn pending evictions.

Another example of transforming practice comes from Dr Parama Chaudhury and her colleagues from the Department of Economics and Centre for Teaching and Learning Economics. They are delivering specialist training to diplomats around the world, who work out of the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The training covers labour markets, exchange rates, financial and macroeconomic crises and regulation, amongst other economics topics, and could ultimately have a far reaching impact on local economies around the world as well as global policymaking.

Both these examples also point to the great benefit innovation activities have in extending networks, meeting new people and gaining different perspectives. Students from the Legal Advice Clinic go on to work in various fields of law, but retain and apply that sense of social justice and perspective inspired by their often disadvantaged former clients. Meanwhile, Parama and her team are afforded an insight into the challenges of applying economic theory in a turbulent political climate.

It’s important that we see the world from other people’s vantage points.

Collaborate to innovate

I would argue that addressing Grand Challenges such as Global Health, Sustainable Cities and Cultural Understanding needs not only UCL collaboration across different academic disciplines, as already happens, but also collaboration with users – businesses and industry, governments and the public.

One prolific collaborator at UCL is Dr Kenneth Tong (Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering) – who has pioneered many new developments in the telecommunications industry. More recently, Kenneth realised that his technologies could have a transformative impact on global food production, through monitoring localised weather patterns, soil conditions and crop quality – ultimately to increase the efficiency of harvests and maximize crop yields. To bring this vision to life, Kenneth is now collaborating with colleagues across UCL as well as externally with Rothamsted Research.

Studio Wayne McGregor, dancer Catarina Carvalho. Photo by Ravi Deepres

Collaboration also flourishes at the interface between arts and sciences – two sectors that can learn much from each other. The growing UCL Dance Network partners UCL academics and students with organisations including the English National Ballet (ENB), Sadler’s Wells, Studio Wayne McGregor and The Place. Current projects include exploring the potential benefits of dance in Parkinson’s disease and new digital approaches to choreography. Dr Robert Thompson (Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering) spent three months as an Innovator-in-Residence at the ENB, and shared some insights:

“Unless you open yourself to the idea of engaging with different audiences, you’re never going to be inspired as to where your work can have further impact. All the pre-existing ideas I had for collaboration had totally changed.”

Help at hand

As Vice-Provost (Enterprise), more than anything, I want to encourage and champion a culture of innovation and enterprise across UCL. All of the areas highlighted in this piece have received some combination of guidance, support and funding from UCL Innovation & Enterprise. Of course, innovation also happens independently at the individual, research group, department and faculty level; but we are always here to provide advice to make sure that academic benefits are realised. With all the capabilities that UCL needs to support this agenda now sitting as one under UCL Innovation & Enterprise, it’s never been easier to get involved and make these activities integral to teaching and research at UCL.

Challenges and opportunities ahead

Capturing the sheer breadth of innovative activity that takes place at UCL – and other institutions in the UK – will be a key aim of the new Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF). It aims to assess, quantify, understand and ultimately improve all the many ways in which we interact with the wider world. It will sit alongside the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) in assessing the three core activities in the higher education sector. Indeed, the KEF is very much at the heart of the Government’s Industrial Strategy: Building a Britain fit for the future.

These are challenging times, and the uncertainty that has marked the wider political and socio-economic landscape over the past few years shows little sign of abating. But what we do know is that the UK, along with much of Europe, will continue moving towards a knowledge-led society and economy in which universities can and should play an increasingly important role.

The radical thinking and innovative culture that is part of the very fabric and history of UCL provides us with the ideal platform to respond to the challenges ahead. There’s a tremendous opportunity here for us to re-shape our society and economy, into one that is healthier, happier, more equitable, productive and resilient. It’s never been more important for us to engage externally to achieve this.

Find out more about how your work can benefit from UCL Innovation & Enterprise and the services we offer: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/enterprise/staff

Making it easier for all to engage with innovation and enterprise at UCL

ucypcac31 October 2018

Introduction

As a world-leading university, UCL deserves outstanding support for all elements of innovation and enterprise. Our ambition at UCL Innovation & Enterprise is to offer this to all our staff and students.

UCL Innovation and Enterprise. Photos by Kirsten Holst

In the last few months, UCL has seen some outstanding successes in the area of innovation and enterprise. Two of our spinout companies, Autolus Therapeutics and MeiraGTx have launched on the NASDAQ with IPOs (Initial Public Offerings) raising a combined figure of $235m (£184m). A third UCL spinout company, Orchard Therapeutics, has announced its intention to raise $200m (£156m) through an IPO. All these companies focus on advanced therapeutics – gene and cell therapy – delivering great patient benefit.

Academics from at least four areas – Electronic and Electrical Engineering, the Bartlett School of Architecture, Neuroscience and Computer Science – are collaborating through new cohesive networks with world-leading dance companies, such as the English National Ballet, Studio Wayne McGregor and Sadler’s Wells, responding to the dance sector’s desire to innovate.

Four entrepreneurial undergraduates set up a social enterprise around helping farmers in the developing world to dry rice. They went on to win the $1m Hult Prize and meet Bill Clinton, beating stiff competition from 2,500 other social enterprises worldwide. Meanwhile, a variety of research teams from UCL departments including Chemical Engineering and Chemistry are working with companies on battery technology projects funded by the Faraday Battery Institute, including one to shape the UK-based solid state materials supply chain.

All of these successes have been supported by us at Innovation & Enterprise, which exists at UCL to help staff and students develop their ideas and see them taken up to make a difference to the world.

Capabilities enhanced at Innovation & Enterprise

We have recently brought together the capabilities that UCL needs to support the innovation and enterprise agenda, so that they all now sit as one under Innovation & Enterprise. Included are capabilities to fund the development of ideas, support the creation of short courses (formerly UCL Life Learning), help build innovative business partnerships, commercialise technologies (UCL Business PLC), support those undertaking consultancy (UCL Consultants Ltd) and share how to think and grow as an entrepreneur.

Having these skills together, rather than fragmented, will make it easier for you – our staff and students – to engage with the innovation and enterprise agenda. You no longer have to think: ‘Who do I talk to about commercialising an idea, or where do I go to get funding?’ Just contact Innovation & Enterprise, and we’ll support you.

And the timing of us coming together in this way is just right. The government has set a challenge to UK universities to help grow the UK investment in research and development (R&D) to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.  While talking with Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, he emphasised to me that universities partnering with businesses and innovation accelerators is vital if we are to achieve this goal.  The government wants businesses to increase their investment in R&D, and some of this at least will happen in collaboration with universities, with UCL, with you and me.

There is another element of the government’s ambition to consider.  Rebecca Endean, Strategy Director at UKRI (UK Research and Innovation), makes the point that the government target of 2.4% is an ambition, but what really matters is the outcomes this will achieve.  These are about creating a knowledge-based economy, more jobs, better society, better culture, more wellbeing and more resilience[1].

Working to help innovative ideas achieve their full potential

Bringing together the capabilities we have in Innovation & Enterprise puts the university on the front foot in helping achieve these outcomes.  We can see this working already in our support for trade missions involving UCL spinout companies to Japan and Switzerland; in our work at the UCL School of Pharmacy, creating a new short course that shares best practice with the pharmaceutical industry in the Middle East; and in our support for the UCL Department of Experimental Psychology, working with Audible to shape the tone and voice of audio books.

We have awarded £3.2m to 113 projects across all faculties in the last year to develop ideas to application, and seen more than 1,600 students involved in our entrepreneurship programmes. This has resulted in great outcomes of almost 60 startups, 160 employed staff and £6.7m investment raised.

To do this we have a talented team made up of specialists from all walks of life.  Researchers from academia and industry – companies we have worked for include GSK, AstraZeneca, IBM, Virgin, PwC, and others – people from government agencies, the United Nations and EU bodies. We have worked for startups and big corporates, we include entrepreneurs, consultants, executive and non-executive board members (past and present) and auditors.

This team knows what it takes to get new ideas and enterprises off the ground. They work across UCL, listening to anyone and everyone, discussing their ideas, working with them to develop these as innovation opportunities.  It’s our job to make it as easy as we can for UCL people to engage with UCL’s ambition to change the world and to do this through all elements of innovation and enterprise.

This sounds very rosy and positive. It is. We believe passionately in the capability of everyone at UCL to make a difference, and our ability, in Innovation & Enterprise, to support this. But there are some real challenges in front of us.

Preparing for Brexit challenges

Talking with the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) last week, following their most recent Brexit-readiness survey, (I’ve done well to get this far without mentioning the Brexit word!) they set out some of the issues. The lack of clarity for businesses of all sizes and types is leading to reduced investment. Companies are finding it challenging to see opportunities post-Brexit. There are looming skills issues. Managing other risks is causing some companies to stock pile their products, introducing unexpected challenges to the associated supply chains.  And – not driven by Brexit – many research-engaged and research-intensive companies are focusing their university engagement on a limited number of partners.  Being aware of these challenges, and sensitive to the need to support UCL’s staff and students in their engagement with industry and innovation partners, is a part of the business of Innovation & Enterprise.

It is our ambition that we will work to help each and every one of you in some capacity. As universities go, UCL is world-leading at research and pretty good at innovation and enterprise. Yet knowing the huge potential within UCL, there’s so much more that can be achieved.  Whether you have a specific question or you just want to understand more about innovation and enterprise, please come and talk to us. We are here to help.

[1] http://www.foundation.org.uk/Events/AudioPdf.aspx?s=1555

Find out more

Email us at enterprise@ucl.ac.uk

Or visit the UCL Innovation & Enterprise website to find out more.

Update on the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) and driving our ambitions for London

ucypcac30 October 2017

In his speech at the recent HEFCE conference (12 October 2017), the Universities Minister Jo Johnson set out some ideas around the development and assessment of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF).

Dr Celia Caulcott, Vice-Provost (Enterprise and London), UCL.

Dr Celia Caulcott, Vice-Provost (Enterprise and London), UCL.

How ready are we for this? Put simply, we are very ready.

Knowledge exchange and innovation is one of three key activities, alongside research and teaching, that the UK government actively supports universities to do. The KEF will complement the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), to which our sector already responds.

(more…)