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THE CHALLENGE

How do universities inspire a step-change in commercialisation and nurture a culture that supports and encourages knowledge exchange & impact?

THE SOLUTION

A skills development programme can certainly play a part in addressing this challenge.
Programmes that increase researchers’ skills and confidence in undertaking KE activity will contribute, particularly if the opportunity feels relevant, is designed to keep them engaged and inspires them to put their learning into action. Outcomes and impacts are further enhanced when an institution provides the opportunity, space & support, and reward & recognition to researchers who want to invest time in KE and impact activities. This all works together to create high levels of participation, motivation and interest.

The Skillfluence team have the benefit of working across more than 80 Universities and bring insights and experience to collaboratively design participant-centric training programmes that suit the specific needs of our customers.

SKILLFLUENCE IN ACTION

The design challenge set by the Northern Accelerator team was to design and deliver a programme to attract, retain and inspire researchers to:

  • Appreciate the breadth of opportunity related to research commercialisation.
  • Demystify the process, reducing barriers to participation.
  • Increase researcher confidence to seek support locally and take a meaningful step forward on their KE journey.


The overall aim was to create a sustainable culture change in researcher perception of commercialisation.

The Skillfluence team were a pleasure to work with and effectively brought to life the vision of the Northern Accelerator Innovators Training Track. One of the keys to success was the emphasis on understanding the audience, where they were in their commercialisation journey and where they wanted to be. It was hugely valuable to capture these data and demonstrate the state change in confidence and knowledge the participants had after the programme. The evaluation reports were immediately useful and we will be proud to use them in our final report to UKRI.

Edwin Milligan
CCF Northern Accelerator, Senior Manager

The Results

The programme was designed to deliver a measurable change in knowledge and confidence in 9 areas that correlate with reducing barriers to participating in KE. The overall change in readiness score is derived from these elements:
"I found the course very informative and enjoyed the opportunity to develop my own ideas/project in relation to the course material. I feel I have a template, based on the materials provided and the notes I made to develop a commercialisation opportunity in relation to my research. For me, this might be a few years down the line, but I am glad that I took the course when I did (as a 1st year post-doc)."

Dr Andrew Graham
Lecturer in Ocupational Health, Teesside University

THE PROGRAMME

An interactive programme that equips participants with the tools, skills and confidence required to create socio-economic value from research and enhance their employability. The delivery format and programme length are designed to encourage application – learn through doing – with the support and accountability of the cohort.

The programme helps participants to:

  • Clarify how they can create commercial impact from their research.
  • Engage with key stakeholders.
  • Define and validate an opportunity.
  • Pitch their opportunity to secure resources.
  • Build meaningful relationships with those working outside of academia.
  • Identify local institutional contacts for IP-related enquiries and other support for KE and commercialisation.

The programme is brought to life through a combination of content, trainer delivery and subject matter experts who have lived experience and are inspiring role models for researchers.

Week 1 with the external speaker proved particularly useful to me, to demystify what commercialisation coming out of academia looks like. Then the speaker from Strathclyde really highlighted the huge range of possible ways to engage with commercialisation from an academic setting. Then the final week was super useful in building networks.

Dr Jack Panter
former Post-Doc Durham University Lecturer in Fluid Dynamics, University of East Anglia

PARTICIPANT-CENTRIC APPROACH

It’s challenging to attract and retain participants over a seven-week programme. The solution requires an engagement strategy that makes the programme feel immediately relevant and delivers learning that can be easily recalled and applied in the future. Combining high relevancy and applicability with inspirational support is an effective formula to enable researchers to take meaningful steps in their KE, commercialisation & impact journey.

  • The programme remit was to attract early career researchers from all disciplines across 6 institutions, including researchers:
  • Who had a clear commercialisation opportunity.
  • Who wanted to undertake KE, but weren’t sure where to start.
  • Who didn’t think it was for them, but were curious or sceptical.

Bringing together researchers from different institutions, disciplines and jumping off points could be seen as a risk. We embraced the diversity and took steps to create a safe and supportive environment that encouraged sharing. The trainers were instrumental in creating this space – from supplying frameworks for collaborative conversations to challenging researchers to test a mindset that is more open to risk and failure. The safe environment created acceptance of open conversation to discuss challenges and opportunities, which they fully embraced.

MEASURING OUTPUTS & OUTCOMES

Successfully executing a participant-centric approach requires an investment of time and effort to truly understand the participants. This intelligence is used to frame the content, make a safe & inclusive environment and continuously improve the programme in real-time. We build in frequent touch points, from application to registration and onboarding, weekly check-in and reflection time, end of course action planning & post-course outcome interviews. We learn about their journeys, challenges, opportunities & progress, enabling the creation of compelling KE narratives.

Meet the Participants

Dr Eva Fernando Dominguez

Associate Professor, Archeology, Durham University

Why did you apply?
There is a huge demand for consultancy services including access to lab equipment and expertise in archaeological sciences. I was interested in the opportunity to look at a business model that focussed on sustainability rather than huge commercial income.

What did you hope the programme would deliver?
I wanted to understand if that type of model was possible.

Did it deliver?
Yes, I really loved the emphasis on validating your customers and understanding your market. I have used the tools to build a business case to secure support for a technician to support the commercialisation work I bring in.

Dr Linzi
Dodd

Senior Lecturer, Electronic Engineering,
Northumbria University

Why did you apply?
I had started a technical development project with a view to commercialise but I had other ideas I wanted to evaluate with a framework.

Where are you now in your journey?
We have a number of ideas we are taking forward, we now have companies engaged and secured further funding to develop for particular applications. We have completed technical/commercial development projects and are looking at a patent filing.

What’s happened as a result?
It gave me the confidence to believe we could take it somewhere.

What was most helpful/memorable?
The collection of tools provided to us. They have helped me weed out the rubbish and focus on the good ideas.

Dr Ulugbek
Azimov

Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Northumbria University

Why did you apply?
It looked like it was for ‘people like me’.

What did you want to achieve?
An introduction to commercialisation, which it did. It taught me how to bring my early ideas up to a level to present them. How to speak about my ideas; how to explain them to non-engineers, how important that communication part is.

What’s happened as a result?
I’ve secured 2 rounds of funding for the initial idea I had, I have 4 priority ideas I am working on with the Tech Transfer Office. We are signing an MoU with an industrial partner and applying for Innovate UK funding for an industry-linked project. We are looking at the potential for a spin-out as a commercialisation route for one of the technologies.

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