When analysing innovation and new developments happening within their sector businesses often look to within their own research and development departments, analyse competitors or reach out to up and coming startups working within the area. One area which often gets overlooked, particularly within areas that are not traditionally science based is the work happening with academia.

Academic institutions have many advantages in discovering new innovations. They often are able to gain public grants to fund their work and are able to pursue more abstract areas of research than a commercial business. This means that though there is likely a higher rate of failure, the discoveries made are likely to provide radical innovation solutions.

The thing which is missing within many academic research initiatives are the resources and skills to commercialise these discoveries and apply them within a business setting. This can mean there are often long delays between the discovery of new technologies and when they become available on a large scale. Take for example the launch of the original Apple Macintosh computer in 1984, this was seen as a revolutionary technology however the basic functionality of the machine could be seen as early as 1968.

If better links were built between academia and business, then this process could be expedited at the benefit of not just individual businesses but the sector as a whole. There are a number of different ways in which these links can be built and many successful initiatives are already in place.

From an academic perspective, universities can build internal programmes to encourage enterprise collaboration.  A great example of this is the SETsquared Partnership run jointly but the universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey. This programme both supports alumni to set up their own enterprise and helps researchers to connect with relevant businesses who may be interested in commercialising the results of their studies. This programme was set up with funding from the Higher Education Innovation Fund which provides government money for universities to further knowledge exchange.

There are also more tailored initiatives which can be set up by businesses to drive collaboration. This could include something as structured as a direct partnership programme where the business funds research within a specific area. Often as reciprocation the company is given first right of refusal in the commercialisation of any research which provides a distinct advantage over competitors.

Alternatively, something as simple as allocating a specific responsibility within the organisation for monitoring published journals and attending relevant conferences can be worthwhile. Having this base level awareness of what is happening in the research community can provide advantages both in identifying potential collaborations and inspiring the direction of internal research and development.

Choosing the right level of academic engagement to suit your business can be challenging but tapping into this valuable resource can be key for successful innovation.