In this blog Pete Hitchings and Tobias Gould from the University of Leicester’s Innovation Hub, provide some top tips on how to access free help from Universities and students.
Universities are hotbeds of talent, ideas, resources and networks which can be leveraged to help your business develop, grow and succeed. This post gives you valuable information about how you can access University staff and students, often for free, and create win-win collaborations. To develop a healthy partnership with Universities it pays to understand what students, academics and universities want.
What you want
A lot of small businesses ask me can we get a student to do our social media, or can we have a legal student draw up our online terms and conditions for us. The answer is yes, it’s all possible to get these things, but it may take time. To get University support for free there has to be clear benefits for both parties. Here is what a University needs from you.
What students want
A university sells the highest level of taught courses. In order to charge tuition fees they need to provide fantastic education, student experience and excellent career and enterprise opportunities. You can help with both the student experience, work experience and enterprise skills. When you offer to judge a student competition, or use your company as a case study for an assignment, you are enriching the quality of the students experience. If students get real work experience with you, this helps them become more employable. If you share your business problems students have a chance to work on interesting projects where their problem solving can generate real world impact. If you share your skills and experience, students can develop leadership skills or learn how to start their own business.
What academics want
What academics need is research impact. Academics are scored on their research impact by the Research Excellence Framework. The rules for this scoring are changing but it is expected that applied research will get more points than purely theoretical work. Applied research is when it has impact on the real world, helping people, communities or businesses. Your business could be of great value to an academic to move their applied research forward. The trick is to find the academics who would be interested in your business area or could help solve the problems you are facing.
How to start the conversation
The only way to get involved with Universities is to start knocking on doors. All of them will have websites where they list their staff and research interests. Most have an employer liaison officer who can help connect you to academics, all will have a careers team focused on the student experience and placements. Finding the right gateway into a University is important to link you up with the right academics more quickly so taking a little time on this will save you time in the longer term.
Here is what you could get!!
- Guest speaker – where you get to go in and talk to students about your business
- Case study – where your business problem is used as a case study on an extra-curricular workshop or taught course
- Student volunteers – where a small or large number of students volunteer to work on a business problem or initiative you have
- Student internship – a shorter period of time lasting from a few weeks or months to work on a defined task
- Student placement – a longer placement where the student is employed by you
- Knowledge Transfer Partnership – a more formal project where you get a bigger input from staff and students to transfer knowledge to your organisation
As with all relationships the more you put in the more you get out. Try and find out what you can do for your local university and you will soon open up lots of ways that they can help you.
Pete Hitchings is lead for the Start-up Leicester Co-working Project, which is seeing the city’s universities, council, Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) and entrepreneurial community join forces to help people across Leicester to become more entrepreneurial, start new businesses and access coworking spaces to start-up.
Tobias Gould is the Business Innovation Fellow at the Leicester Innovation Hub. He helps Leicestershire SMEs access the talent and resources from the University of Leicester, to deliver growth focussed innovations.