University of Kent and iTeams
Combining multi-disciplinary teams of students with industry mentors and real life business challenges to facilitate student and business innovation.
The University of Kent held their first i-Teams programme earlier this year. It was an intensive 6-week programme using three multi-disciplinary teams of students to develop transferable skills vital for employability by working on real business challenges set by the business sponsors. Students would not only increase their skill sets and personal development, but also gain valuable insight into the world of business and the challenges facing them; businesses would benefit from the outcomes of the projects, and access to academic knowledge, skills and experience. Kent Knowledge Exchange and Enterprise would also benefit from having additional opportunities for future knowledge transfer partnerships and a database of students interested in innovation projects. Businesses involved include; Simply Do Ideas, TMLEP, Lucas and South Eastern.
The aim of the programme was to:
- Use interdisciplinary teams of students to produce solutions to business challenges
- Develop transferable skills in students vital for employability
- Identify and engage three businesses to set a current business challenge which would pave the way for future working via knowledge transfer partnerships
- Promote innovative approaches and thinking in the student body.
The programme aimed to develop student skills including: team working, consultancy and brainstorming, identifying key commercial benefits with regard to innovative solutions, market research, data analysis and presentation skills. The three businesses selected have benefited from the outcomes of the projects, and access to academic knowledge, skills, and experience.
As this was the first Kent i-Teams programme, an external consultant from the Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce (KICC) was used to lead on the programme delivery. The Programme Lead played a key role in keeping the programme on track and ensuring that objectives for students, mentors and businesses were met. KICC has a long standing relationship with the University as a workshop provider. Each i-Team was multi-disciplinary and consisted of approximately seven students. The i-Teams worked on a real project, assisting the three selected companies with a current business challenge. Every team had a dedicated business mentor and was also supported by an intellectual property officer throughout the project.
Kent used a challenge led innovation platform, Simply Do, which has a secure Kent single sign on, to recruit students, segment them into multi-disciplinary i-Teams groups and to set the business challenges. Using the platform, the teams were then able to pool their ideas and work collaboratively through the six week process to produce the final solutions for the businesses.
Using Simply Do enabled communication directly with individuals, teams, and whole group to provide online support, guidance and mentoring. Kent were also able to use the platform for our initial and end of project surveys.
“Using the Simply Do platform for the i-Teams project for applications for i-Teams has given us a database of students who are interested in developing innovation skills which we can use in the next round of i-Teams and for any other student facing innovation projects.” – Marcus Wright, Knowledge Exchange Manager, University of Kent
The culmination of the project was the Grand Final, held at the Kent Conference Centre (Darwin), where the i-Teams presented their solutions to the businesses and an extended audience of academics and industrialists. It was a very successful evening and all three businesses were very pleased with the solutions offered by the teams; students were thrilled with the opportunity to present their findings to senior staff in the business.
Awards were made to those students who had shown exemplary attitude and skills. Everyone that completed the programme received a certificate of participation and Employability Points.
Overall the objectives were achieved for the programme for students, business challenge sponsors and for Kent Innovation and Enterprise future working.
For the students, the aim to increase their skills and personal development is evidenced in the outcomes of the post project survey:
- 92% of respondents said their team working skills had improved
- 100% of respondents said their commercial thinking and outlook had improved
- 92% of respondents said their level of enterprise and innovation skills had improved
- 75% of respondents said their level of experience in market research had increased
Comments from students included:
“Allowed to gain first insight into the business sector and what factors we have to consider in their business projects – allowed me to see the importance of investigating the scope of competition with the business and always relating it back to the consumer. Experience such as this that I hope to implement for my own business and when I enter the business sector after graduation.”
“Being able to collaborate with our business clients is a great way for us to learn more about innovation.”
Business Challenge Sponsors
All three businesses were impressed by the solutions of their set challenge, presented to them at the grand final. Below quotes from each business describing their experience.
“We were the recipients of the most unexpected, but wonderful gift from the team. The sheer quality, effort and laser focused solution presented to us by this clearly very talented and committed team, was truly exceptional and will now allow us to develop an extremely powerful digital client engagement tool that totally hits the target of our business and customer needs and will give our clients the most amazing enhanced experience working with Lucas in the future.” – Danny Lucas, Owner of Lucas
“i-Teams has been an eye-opening experience and one that TMLEP are keen to be a part of again in the future. The power of the student collective is something not to be understated and the solutions developed by all i-Teams were exceptional. TMLEP will definitely be taking on board the solution put forward by the students and will look how we can implement into our future business plans. Here’s to i-Teams 2021!” – Alexander Acaster, UK Clinical Services
Kent Innovation and Enterprise
“Through this novel and unique way, we truly witnessed a win:win situation for all parties. The University was able to deeper understand business challenges engaging with senior management teams. This provided a different route to engagement. The students received real world experience and developed their soft skills in a breadth of ways and for the company beneficiaries they witnessed the power of multidisciplinary innovation and knowledge exchange. When you have all of this wrapped around the robust delivery of the Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce supported by a strong innovation platform (Simply Do Ideas) you have a winning formula that cannot fail. All company beneficiaries have invited Kent to further explore synergies around their challenges and new ideas that this process have sparked and I look forward to exploring these when able to do so.” – Marcus Wright, Knowledge Exchange Manager, University of Kent
The University of Kent are now finalising a business impact documentary with the three business challenge partners and plan to develop the relationships further for future knowledge transfer partnerships.
For Kent students, registration is now open for the i-Teams 2021 programme. Any Kent students wishing to apply can find out more here.