The healthcare sector features a hugely diverse range of companies, producing everything from novel medical devices and software to service and design approaches for healthcare systems.
Many of these companies rely on an active engagement with academic research to remain competitive. A well-formed two-way relationship between business and academia can enrich both parties substantially. Involving business representatives in a research project can help inform and frame the project so it addresses commercialisation challenges earlier, helping to de-risk future stages of development and increase the likelihood the technology will attract future investment.
Business engagement can occur in a number of ways and at a number of levels, and what is appropriate will differ from project to project. Many projects seek to involve industry representatives in their advice streams. This could take the form of an industrial representative on a steering or advisory board, or even as a separate industrial advisory board where justified.
Industrialists are well placed to give specific advice on:
- research approaches
- market opportunities
- intellectual property considerations
- routes to market.
You may also consider involving industrial representatives more informally through research dialogues to influence project direction or dissemination via industrially relevant events or showcases either at your university or company sites.
In some cases it may make sense to involve businesses more actively as a project partner. This may involve elements of the research taking place within the business, particularly where this may enable access to equipment or other facilities that would not be otherwise available.
Where the project partner has a particular interest in your technology and where this fits with their broader business interests it may be that they are the obvious choice to take forward the subsequent development of your technology.
While this can offer an easier route to translation, you should consider how this relationship will be managed through an appropriate collaboration agreement, particularly with regard to intellectual property.
It is possible to undertake further collaborative work with business partners through a number of different mechanisms including business-led research supported by Innovate UK.
Developing new relationships with new businesses can be challenging as many companies in the medtech sector are small or medium enterprises and often have limited time and resources to dedicate to interacting with researchers.
However it is important to recognise that you can offer business partners insights into cutting-edge technologies, which may lend them a competitive advantage in return for what can often be a relatively modest investment of time and effort.
If you do not have pre-existing links with relevant business partners, you should consider how you will go about making these links during the course of your project.
What to consider when involving businesses
You should consider:
- what the most appropriate level of business involvement in your proposal is
- if you have relationships with businesses in the appropriate sector already
- how you would establish and maintain appropriate relationships
- if your university has a dedicated team for business engagement that you can use for contacts or advice
- any intellectual property (IP) considerations with involving business partners, and if you need to talk to your relevant university IP office or equivalent
- what dissemination routes to business are most appropriate.
Resources to request
As part of your proposal you should consider requesting resources to:
- hold dialogue days to gather business perspectives
- produce material for dissemination or basic training for potential businesses users
- carry out feasibility studies that would de-risk future business support or uptake
- undertake a secondment or discipline hop to spend time in a commercial setting gathering information and understanding
- attend or present your research at key industrial events
- showcase your research at business sites rather than relying on business coming to you
- support legal agreements to help transparent engagement with business and industry.
The Academic Health Science Networks – English-specific networks that connect NHS and academic organisations, local authorities, the third sector and industry to spread innovation at pace and scale improving health and generating economic growth.
Knowledge Transfer Network – information on the different knowledge transfer networks that connect people to accelerate innovation.
The Catapult Network – the Catapult centres are a network of world-leading centres designed to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in specific areas.
Diagnostic Evidence Cooperatives – four centres which bring together a wide range of experts and specialists from across the NHS and industry, including clinicians and other healthcare professionals, patients, NHS commissioners and researchers to improve the way diseases are diagnosed.
Health and Care Research Wales – information on the Welsh Government body that supports and develops excellent research which has a positive impact on the health, wellbeing and prosperity of people in Wales.
Chief Scientist Office – information on the work of the CSO to support all research in NHS Scotland through NHS Research Scotland.
Health and Social Care Research and Development Division (Northern Ireland) – provides information on the Health and Social Care research and development budget on behalf of the Department of Health, Northern Ireland.
National Centre for Universities and Business – an independent and not-for-profit membership organisation that promotes, develops and supports university and business collaboration across the UK.