First published on the Universities UK blog here.

As we emerge from the pandemic, innovation will be crucial to the UK’s economic growth. Experts from universities and businesses will be looking to collaborate more through research and development projects, addressing major social, technological, economic and environmental challenges.

The pandemic has raised the profile of collaboration between universities and businesses. Yet the seemingly overnight development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was founded on years of underlying research. Making the most of this research by harnessing new ideas, new technologies and new ways of working will be critical as we emerge from the pandemic.

At the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) we have developed a digital collaboration tool, konfer. The tool provides simple access to research and innovation opportunities in the UK and around the world, supporting the development of discoveries into commercial solutions. konfer harnesses AI-powered, ‘smart-matching’ technology to rapidly connect universities with relevant businesses and other organisations, making it easier and quicker to develop research and innovation partnerships.

After categorising open access data from 153 UK universities, NCUB developed a  directory on konfer of thousands of ‘innovation-ready’ UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It includes details of research projects undertaken and intellectual property developed. konfer showcases international challenges and commercial opportunities across a wide range of sectors. The platform matches relevant UK experts and businesses, both with each other and with innovative organisations around the world.

Through konfer, Teesside University is working with Nova Q, a leader in the fields of agriculture, aquaculture, disinfection, renewables and wastewater, to demonstrate the potential of their micro-bubble aeration technology to drive sustainability. Dr Faik Hamad, Associate Professor in Thermofluid Engineering at Teesside University, said:

‘Water is essential to everything from agriculture to industrial processes; as the issue of pathogenic micro-organisms becomes more prevalent, micro-bubble aeration technology has the potential to tackle this issue in a way that is sustainable and safe. We are delighted to be working with konfer, who have provided us with simplified access to a network of thousands of businesses.’

Other companies that have used konfer include University of Bristol spin-out Zeetta Networks Ltd. Zeetta have been working with konfer to identify UK academics to collaborate with on a £9 million 5G project to transform UK manufacturing.

Antser, using virtual reality to tackle a range of issues affecting children and families. Their pilot scheme produced startling results addressing domestic abuse. konfer connected the business with a team of VR specialists from a leading UK university, who are now helping further develop this groundbreaking project.

With continued support from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Research England, konfer will continue to develop. The next release will see an expanded business directory to include even more innovation-ready UK SMEs, including university spin-outs and scale-ups.

konfer will provide an increasingly detailed insight into university research and innovation activities, including participation in Innovate UK projects, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, research centre capabilities and the upcoming Research Excellence Framework 2021 case studies.

During the pandemic, the volume of partnership opportunities on konfer has grown. To find out more about opportunities to use konfer as a business, research organisation or higher education provider, go to, visit konfer directly or get in touch with a NCUB representative.