EIRA Quick Guide: Enabling Business Engagement
Collaboration between universities and external organisations such as businesses, charities, NGOs and professional networks can bring a range of benefits for all parties involved. Universities can offer businesses access to academic expertise, specialist facilities and talent through knowledge exchange initiatives and internships.
Regular and effective engagement with businesses ensures that universities are kept up to date with industry trends. This helps institutions to address any skills gaps in their courses and academic staff access to the latest industry-approved software and resources. Furthermore, regular engagement between academics and business partners supports research that can be of commercial benefit, boosting the local economy and providing solutions for the business community.
It can be daunting to know where to start with business engagement, but most institutions will have Business Development staff who can help you take the first steps. For academics, it can be helpful to draw up a list of the sectors, and then the companies who may be interested in learning about your research. This list can then be cross-referenced with the institution’s CRM system, to establish whether there are any active connections ongoing with these companies. If there are, then a good CRM system will usually yield further information about the person within your organisation that might be worth contacting to find out the background of the existing relationship. Once you’ve spoken to the designated business contact within your institution and have been given the go-ahead to contact a business, then the first step in business engagement is as simple as reaching out, usually by phonecall or email, to speak to the organisation. It can be helpful to have a short list of bullet points to hand to make sure you stay focused on promoting your research (or on whatever your primary reasons for contacting them are).
If the business is interested, a meeting will usually be set up, which drills into the finer details of your research and what you are proposing.
When discussing project developments businesses will have a focus on:
- Finances and profit margins
- Opportunities for developing markets
- Innovation opportunities
- Ownership of intellectual property
- Networking with other businesses and researchers
- Time given to tasks
- Funding and any useful support opportunities
- Staffing and resources
Bear these points in mind when considering the path that discussions take during meetings and how the business might view the academic ideas that you might like to explore. Ask yourself, to what extent will the project impact positively on the above points?
Finding and Networking with Businesses
To find businesses consider the following:
- Liaising with existing industry panels within your school or faculty
- Connecting with alumni groups.
- Contacting your institution’s Knowledge Exchange or Business Development department for their overview of University business contacts and access to any business database they may have.
- Using local forums and groups to meet new businesses.
- Running an ‘in-house’ event that is likely to attract businesses on a particular theme. Businesses will be interested in free talks, discussions, workshops that allow them to gain an insight into new technology and research developments. These types of events can be extended with discussion groups to help both sectors network. Businesses are also attracted to the idea that they may be able to network with other businesses i.e. “B2B” events.
- Using your own social media presence to connect
Make use of the free month trial for learning new subjects.
Create a good summary content that attracts people to your profile
Using LinkedIn’s Find NearBy Feature
If you are attending an event, conference or exhibition, consider using the local networking feature inside the LinkedIn App on your phone. This feature of Linkedin allows you to identify and if you like, connect with anyone else attending the same event in your vicinity. This feature has been discontinued during COVID but is likely to be re-instated when face-to-face meetings become prevalent again.
A YouTube example of this feature working
Good for growing a network and connecting with new businesses
Join subject groups to monitor local activity and post relevant information in the discussion boxes for everyone in the group to see.
Look at profiles and send targeted emails / messages to individuals
A good platform for connecting with local and regional interest groups.
Browse for relevant events.
A platform for finding relevant online subject content
Use a platform such as TweetDeck or Hootsuite to monitor streams of posts on particular subject areas (eg: #VirtualReality #AI).
Examine profiles and follow useful accounts.
Become familiar with and use #HashTags as needed.
Create your own curated list within Twitter of accounts which are relevant and useful for you.
Quick access to people around the world.
Search for local interest and community groups. Some businesses will have their own Facebook presence to promote themselves with their community.
There are also community groups that attract people with interests in specific topics. (virtual reality, marine science, local arts, historical groups etc)
Join relevant groups and post information that will be of value to the group to promote engagement with yourself.
Consider connecting with the business on their Facebook page. It can
- Give you insights into what is happening
- Connect you with others that have an interest with the business
- Provide you with topical news to use to send follow up communications of interest to them.
You may need to take time to create very creative posts to provoke related interests.
Use up to 30 hashtags per post (usually posted at the end of the caption) to attract larger audiences to your feed. You can search for similar accounts to yours and see what is popular and use relevant hashtags that might engage people with your content.
Useful for provoking and finding creative businesses / researchers
Marketing to businesses
Selling the value of new ideas to a business: The ‘Value Proposition’
Can your research ideas be presented or reframed for a business in a value proposition model? This short video outlines how this type of visual tool can be used to present a new idea to a business to give a clear outline of the potential advantages.
Providing businesses with an initial service is a good way to bring new businesses in. The KTN tool allows businesses to reflect on their own innovation capability. The opportunity for a business to be led through this tool and then reflect with relevant academics and researchers about the potential for new ideas can be a very powerful way to suggest new engagement ideas.KTN INNOVATION CANVAS ONLINE INTERACTIVE TOOL KTN’S PAPER CANVAS TOOL KTN’S ‘HOW TO USE KTN’S INNOVATION CANVAS’ YOUTUBE
Business / Research Workshops
Using tools like the KTN Innovation Canvas can provide the basis for a powerful and valuable workshop activity for engaging businesses and exploring new ideas. This can be very attractive for businesses who like the idea of understanding current and future research trends and additionally have the opportunity to discuss their ideas with experts. Creating workshops like this does take an investment from a school or department and needs the time and space to create, market and manage properly. However, they could prove a useful way of engaging external companies with business opportunities and partnerships.
Presenting at a Business Meeting
Presenting at a meeting
If you are going to deliver a live presentation or demonstration, consider this tick list:
- Do you know whether the space / the environment, you will be presenting in is adequate?
- Power supplies?
- Is the space appropriate for Powerpoint or other platform that you may use?
- Do you need to sort out sound / audio?
- Do you need internet connectivity?
- Is there room enough for a demonstration?
- Do you need phone connectivity?
- Do you need web conferencing facilities for other people attending?
How to follow up
Send a related email shortly after the meeting. This can include: summarising the meeting; adding a reminder of any points that were made; providing links to resources and references that were referred to and importantly, suggestions on the next steps. Consider communicating the following to the business to keep their interest:
- News Briefs
- Relevant sector information
- R&D Forums
- Funding opportunities
An early discussion about IP implications is often necessary. While you may not be so concerned on the final outcomes of IP contracts, it is important to know your own University’s general stance on IP developments.
It is useful to know the name and contact details of the staff who might deal with these conversations at your organisation.
IP Policy at different providers
University of Essex
University of Kent
For more information on IP and licensing, read our EIRA Quick Guide on Commercialisation
In this guide we’ve:
Looked at the many different ways to find and network with businesses.
We’ve covered how to approach a business meeting.
Top tips to engage businesses through social media and using tools, such as the KTN’s Innovation Canvas to begin project planning with a business..
Setting clear outcomes, timelines and boundaries.
If there is one key point we’d like you to take away from this guide is that most institutions have business development and engagement teams on hand to go through best practice in more detail. It’s really important that you reach out to them before approaching a business, or at least check on your institution’s CRM system beforehand, so that you can discover whether the institution has made any connections with the external business in the past.
Referencing & Further Reading
Ways of discovering new businesses
- Social Media (could include how to find appropriate tags for different areas)
How to check for viable businesses
Business-University collaboration: the Wilson Review
Using Tools to help KTN Innovation Canvas – A good template for having outlining discussions with a business.
KTN Innovation Canvas – Online Tool – This would be a worthwhile scoping exercise for a business to use prior to a meeting.