Collaborating to collaborate: interim results of the Connecting Capability Fund

Collaborating to collaborate: interim results of the Connecting Capability Fund

10 March 2020

Our Connecting Capability Fund (CCF) is a distinctive programme focussed on stimulating collaboration between universities to achieve more effective commercialisation with external business partners. It has provided £85 million for 18 projects involving 54 collaborating universities together with external economic partners, running for three years from April 2018.

Today we publish an interim evaluation of the fund (PDF) from consultants IP Pragmatics.

It is too early to measure the outcomes of the individual projects and the return on investment that may be achieved:

 

The requirement for public funding for knowledge exchange and commercialisation in universities to deliver the 2.4% target – making the case for HEIF

Logic model of the CCF programme (text summary of the diagram)
(Credit: IP Pragmatics)

However, prospects look bright. To date, the programme has trained over 2,000 people in commercialisation and engaged over 100 businesses directly and over 1,500 in wider networks to the programme.  It has set in train over 1,000 projects to create new products or services; helped set up 28 new spin-out companies; and levered £37m in additional funding from partners, together with nearly £60m in access to finance funding.  

And there have been early wins in the programme – such as prototyping support of Baby BSL which uses augmented reality storytelling to motivate parents and carers to use British Sign Language with children who have not yet learnt to speak.  Or mentoring and funding for Unhindr - using AI in a soft robotic liner to make prosthetics change shape throughout the day for the comfort of the wearer.

But today's report highlights some of the important contributions that a programme of this sort can make, on top of the successes of individual projects.

First, CCF is all about collaboration. These include the intended joint working between universities, between universities and business and between commercialisation professionals and knowledge exchange offices to share capacity and good practice. Evaluation suggests though that it is also increasing collaboration between commercialisation professionals and researchers, and between researchers and economic partners.  Participants in the programme comment that it is more truly collaborative than has been experienced previously in the sector.

Collaborations create scale and visibility. The evaluation concludes that CCF is improving the profile of commercialisation within universities, helping senior management appreciate benefits.  It is also enabling universities with smaller knowledge pipelines to deliver commercialisation outcomes in a collaboration that they could not achieve alone.

This is all providing easier ways for national and local governments, businesses, investors and other partners to inter-act with higher education commercialisation, to understand its potential, its challenges and its impacts. In turn this helps joint problem-solving. The programme is stimulating shared and innovative approaches to raising private finance, accelerating new company formation and scaling up and improving innovation conditions around the UK.

The programme highlights particularly that many different types of talent have to come together for successful commercialisation.  The entrepreneurial talent needed for commercialisation and combining in the CCF programme is drawn from university research and tech transfer professionals, businesses, investors and mentors, public and third sectors and communities and wider society.

The CCF projects also explore the range of approaches to commercialisation from arts, design, social sciences, through to science and engineering.  The programme overall is enabling high levels of cross disciplinary collaboration in commercialisation, and diverse approaches to major societal challenges. As example, the opportunities from an ageing population are addressed through:

  • cunningly designed corsetry to reduce needs for physical therapies
  • artistic virtual and augmented realities to improve understanding of mobility and decrease likelihood of debilitating falls
  • advanced scientific therapies
  • and open networks of clinical research and medical innovation

Finally, the programme highlights the importance of place to commercialisation – why place matters in commercialisation and what commercialisation delivers for place. Commercialisation requires high levels of inter-action, trust and creativity.  This is most likely achieved when partners are closely located, and 12 out of 18 CCF projects have a regional focus.

Just over half of the projects are located outside the greater south east with its more plentiful sources of capital and scale of entrepreneurial conditions. These projects are coming together with local partners to deliver the ingredients to successful ecosystems – ideas, talent, finance and capital infrastructure. These should power successful commercialisation for the longer run, delivering for the Government’s levelling-up agenda.

Text summary of the diagram

  • Inputs:
    • CCF and leveraged funding
    • Existing KE resources
  • Collaborative Models:
    • Pooling of KE expertise
    • Critical mass
    • Cross-HEI responses
    • Sharing best practice
    • Enhanced KE effectiveness
  • Activities:
    • Proof of Concept
    • Training and coaching
    • Additional KE staff
    • Access to finance
    • Knowledge of resources/ capabilities
    • Sector knowledge
    • Regional access
    • Networks
  • Outputs:
    • Increased TRLs
    • SME engagement
    • Industry partnerships
    • Spin-outs
    • Licences & products
    • Investment raised
    • Strengthened places
    • Skilled people
  • Impacts:
    • Support for Industrial strategy foundations:
    • Ideas
    • People
    • Business Environment
    • Places
    • Increased productivity
    • Economic growth