What can a university collaboration bring to a new tech development?

Following the success of Venturefest South West, Rich Adams, Corporate Project Manager at the University of Plymouth, says businesses and universities are working together to create groundbreaking new technologies.

On 17th June, businesses from across the South West flocked to Sandy Park in Exeter for Venturefest South West. Co-sponsored by the University of Plymouth, the event was a celebration of the cutting edge innovation coming out of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.

The event highlighted the exciting technical advances being made in the region, which is something I come across every day in my work with the Enterprise Solutions team at the University of Plymouth. When businesses and universities join forces, they can really drive innovation. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of new technology. There are some really exciting examples of pioneering technologies that the University of Plymouth is involved with down here in the South West, particularly across the fields of agri-tech, e-health, big data and marine robotics.

So, what can a university bring to a new tech development and why should a business consider such a collaboration?

Additional skills and expertise

Any new tech project is likely to need a broad range of skills and expertise. Your business may well have the specialist knowledge for key aspects of your project, particularly if your innovation is closely linked to your existing portfolio. However, as the project progresses, it is highly likely that you will discover you need additional expertise that you don’t have in house. One of the key roles a university can play is to plug those gaps in skills and knowledge. Universities are very well placed for this. That is not only because they have their own depth and breadth of expertise, but because they are also likely to be well connected to other organisations, potentially globally, that could work with you.

A key objective of EPIC, a collaborative project to grow e-health businesses in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, is to forge collaborations between organisations with complementary skill sets. This is leading to some really fruitful relationships between businesses, charities, social enterprises and universities. These relationships are now delivering new e-health products ranging from the use of virtual reality to give patients experiences they can no longer enjoy, to health apps for the NHS.

Objectivity and credibility

Taking any new technology to market is challenging if it doesn’t yet have a track record. This is where a university collaboration can also really help. Academics are known for their objectivity, so their involvement can bring credibility to your product, potentially giving you the edge on your competitors. Universities have access to the latest research from all around the world, which means that an academic can bring new insights to your project. This will help you see your development in a global context, which could help you identify where the opportunities are as well as any potential threats from competitors.

Devon-based SMEs now have even greater opportunities to work collaboratively with our scientists and technologists to develop new products, services or processes with a focus on big data and safeguarding the environment. The Environmental Futures and Big Data Impact Lab enables businesses of all sizes and across all sectors to access research and facilities to develop new technology projects that could provide a solution to environmental challenges. We believe this new project will help businesses in the South West to accelerate innovations in the field of technology.

State-of-the-art facilities and equipment

Working with a university can give you access to world-class facilities and equipment, which you may be able to use free of charge or for a small fee. Using the highest level equipment during the R&D phase, to test out your ideas, could help you solve problems and answer questions much more quickly and accurately.

There are many examples at the University of Plymouth to include here. However, one is the COAST (Coastal, Ocean and Sediment Transport) laboratory, which provides businesses from around the world with a unique range of testing facilities. COAST provides physical model testing with combined waves, currents and wind, which companies use for device testing, array testing, environmental modelling and coastal engineering. At the heart of the Marine Navigation Centre is the Ship Simulator, which uses advanced computer imagery, projection and a 270-degree screen to provide users with an exact simulation of conditions at sea.

Growing numbers of organisations in the creative sector are discovering the potential for i-DAT, home to the Immersive Visual Theatre, which uses customised powerful computers to wrap data, models, video and images around its surface. This facility has really exciting potential in the fields of modelling and data visualisation.

Access to funding

Access to funding is likely to be crucial to getting any major technology project off the ground. Collaborating with a university could pave the way for Government funding, which could help kick-start or sustain your project. The Industrial Strategy is a good example. Universities, including Plymouth, are seeking industry partnerships to respond to the Grand Challenges, which have been set up to boost the UK’s productivity and earning power.

The University is a partner in Agri-Tech Cornwall, which is bringing £10 million worth of funding to a number of projects designed to help the UK become a world-leader in agricultural technology. Researchers are working with a number of small and medium-sized Cornish companies on new projects, including developing groundbreaking robotics technology for automated harvesting.

For more information on how businesses can work with the University of Plymouth: enterprisesolutions@plymouth.ac.uk