Collaborating With a University: A Lesser-known Route to Success?

Adrian Tindall outlines the reasons why collaborating with a university can help your business to take the next step

Collaborating With a University: A Lesser-known Route to Success?

When a business is starting up, the founders may struggle to decide where the best place to get advice may be. Some will rely entirely on the advice of friends and family, others will use the myriad support services on offer through local councils, or through ERDF/ESF-funded projects, whether through regional or national providers.

What’s hidden from this picture is the role that a university can play in helping your business to grow. There is a high likelihood that most businesses in the UK are within touching distance of a university which is offering support to small businesses in various ways.

There is a misconception that small business support at universities is only aimed at the university’s students and alumni – this is certainly not the case, universities are increasingly working with both new and established small businesses in their patch and beyond, in mutually beneficial relationships.

For a university, commercial relationships with businesses are fairly common – though the nature of these relationships is changing. Yes, there is a long track record of university and industrial collaboration, but this has usually been in the form of joint research projects, to commercialise a particular piece of intellectual property or a business idea that needed getting off the ground.

In recent years this type of collaboration has morphed somewhat, universities are now actively seeking out engagement with the small business community, as a way to supplement its industrial collaboration with larger businesses.

Whether a university is a city university or a country campus, the truth is that universities quite frankly often have a large amount of estate that is not necessarily earmarked for teaching or meeting space.

As such they have the ability to flex to increase the amount and type of business collaboration that they conduct. The norm is for a university to have some form of incubator space, which focuses on the university’s ability to interact with industry in all of its forms – these are either opening or being expanded at a rate of knots.

For an example at my institution, London South Bank University (LSBU), we started out with 24,000 square feet of dedicated space for business collaboration, before expanding that to some 40,000 square feet across three buildings in Central London.

We are now able to provide affordable office space to companies who are able to align with one of our seven schools, so that our curriculum and business engagement activities are as interlinked as they can be. A lease is for three years, but we also have milestones that our small business tenants must meet, to be able to continue their tenancy and to ensure that it contributes as best it can to broader life at the university.

For example, tenants are encouraged to offer student mentoring opportunities, take on students for work placements, offer guest lectures and speaking opportunities as well as where appropriate provide PhD students and academics with practical skills in research and links in industry.

Whilst small businesses will no doubt benefit from the affordable space we provide, as well as full access to a range of business support, universities benefit from the way collaboration can help increase student enhancement, academic knowledge and curriculum development.

At a time when future remains uncertain for business, becoming part of the university’s business community through formal partnership means becoming part of a community of businesses with a similar mindset to yours.

The networking opportunities – both domestic and international – from being a part of this community are not insignificant, and when this is combined with the unique and privileged access to talent that only a university can provide, it becomes clear that coming onto campus can really help to take your business to the next level.

Adrian Tindall is Tenant Manager (Research, Enterprise and Innovation), at London South Bank University

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