By Rich Adams, Corporate Projects Manager, University of Plymouth
Each year, the University of Plymouth Enterprise Solutions connects hundreds of South West businesses with the University’s facilities and expertise. What do those enquiries tell us about the priorities of businesses in the region?
The Enterprise Solutions team is the first port of call for businesses looking to collaborate with the University of Plymouth. Whether it’s a phone call, an email or a face-to-face conversation, we are often the first to hear about the help or support that business needs. Handling hundreds of such enquiries a year gives us unique insights into what is on the mind of South West businesses.
Here are some themes that we have picked up:
1. They are constantly innovating
Enterprise Solutions is privileged to often be among the first to hear about new ideas from the region’s businesses and we have noticed a real increase in research and development (R&D). We are regularly approached by businesses who have come up with really innovative concepts and need our help to validate them with either research or testing using our state of the art equipment and facilities.
We’ve helped Caterpillar Marine Power UK Ltd access the potential of Degree Apprenticeships and we are working with Effect Photonics to help the team there bring its System on Chip communication systems to market. And we’re collaborating with Made for Life Organics to create specialist new skincare products. These are just a few examples – and there are many more – that illustrate the spirit of innovation among South West businesses embracing R&D.
2. Tackling environment and sustainability problems remains a priority
We also see a number of businesses approach us because they want to work with the University to tackle issues relating to environmental sustainability. The University of Plymouth is recognised globally for its expertise in marine science, so many companies naturally come to us asking for our input on marine renewable energy projects, as well as issues relating to marine ecology and conservation.
What is clear is that sustainability is not just a concern for environmental organisations. Companies across sectors, large and small, approach us for our advice on the environmental impact of their work – whether that’s about developing a new product, or reducing the impact of existing processes.
3. They think globally
Although the South West business community is mainly made up of SMEs, that does not seem to limit the region’s ambition on the world stage. For example, we have a long-standing relationship with Spinnaker, a Cornish company whose ground breaking cash-in-transit security systems are now used all over the world.
Many of the SMEs we work with operate on a global scale, embracing the challenges of international trade. A number of our enquiries come from businesses that want to reach out to new markets and value the University’s international reach to experts, markets and partners.
4. They are operating in growth industries
Many of our enquiries come from businesses that are working in emerging and high-growth industries who are keen to accelerate their product to market. For example, we have collaborated with a number of the high tech businesses that are establishing a photonics hub in and around Brixham. The University has an established relationship with many companies that are developing clean energy solutions. Our facilities, such as Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre, mean we are well placed to support engineering and advanced manufacturing businesses with their R&D.
So, while the South West has long been associated with tourism, fishing and farming, our experience tells us that the region is also home to a growing number of ambitious businesses that are leading the way in new technologies and emerging sectors.
5. They value partnerships and collaboration
Perhaps because so many of the South West’s businesses are SMEs, they generally value the opportunity to forge partnerships and collaborations.
Businesses typically come to us when they have a problem that they can’t solve themselves. That may mean they want to access specialist equipment or tap into our expertise to move forward on a particular project. Whether they are developing a new product, process or business model, they know they can discuss their ideas with us completely confidentially. So, businesses often come to the University with early-stage ideas when they need an objective trusted partner.
Working with the University gives businesses the opportunity to discuss ideas in a setting where academic freedom is valued. Many businesses are seeking a confidential environment where their ideas can be challenged and products refined before launching. They are seeking a safe harbour where academic research not only aids the development of their thinking but also provides validation for investors and buyers across the world.
Ultimately, it is the knowledge base within a University that businesses seek; either from our brilliant students, world leading academics or our partners across the South West and beyond.
Published: 26 October 2018