By Paul Yeomans, knowledge transfer partnerships manager at University of Nottingham
Do you want to access some of the world’s best minds to develop new products, embed new skills, or just improve the efficiency of your business to increase profits and create a step-change in your future?
Well, one way of doing just that is through Knowledge Transfer Partnership, or KTP. KTP is an Innovate UK-funded programme that for the past 40 years has helped businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within UK universities.
The types of projects undertaken via KTP are strategic and significant for the participating business: they are often central to the future growth and success, and are undertaken in a fully professional way. These are not part-time projects or student/graduate placements.
So how does a KTP work? A full-time member of staff is jointly recruited by the company and the university to work on site in the business but with access to university facilities. The projects also benefit from a team of academic experts, who regularly visit the company to work directly on the project, whilst project management support from Innovate UK and the university ensures that there are no grant claims for the company to manage as with other funding.
The University of Nottingham is the third largest KTP provider in the UK – with 36 projects currently running and more than 120 in the past 12 years. However, over time, a number of myths have emerged about KTP and who it is for.
Myth 1: “KTP is for established businesses”
The biggest change that has happened in my time in KTP is it has become much less conservative about the types of companies and projects it funds, and is now supporting potential high-growth businesses with disruptive ideas.
Over the past five years we have seen more and more early stage and Venture Capital (VC)-funded businesses entering KTP. Traditionally we would have focused on businesses with several years profitable accounts, but now, provided you can show you have the money to fund your contribution, KTP could well work for you.
Many VC-backed companies are using the KTP, the new knowledge it is creating and the improvements in business performance, as a key lever in the next fundraising round.
Myth 2: “KTP is just for SMEs”
Over the past 15 years there has been an increased government emphasis on SMEs and the need to support them. As a result, a lot of the language since then has focused on SMEs.
Whilst they probably make up 65% of live KTP projects, it is also worth noting that there has always been a significant amount of micro-businesses involved at one end of the scale and large multinationals at the other end. If your business needs some expertise to help you grow and develop, KTP does not really care how big you are.
The greater focus from government on productivity has also made this approach to knowledge transfer even more important, as there has been a growing realisation that all kinds of businesses need to innovate, grow and evolve.
Myth 3: “KTP is for high-tech businesses”
A lot of the language around government funding can sometimes sound exclusively ‘high-tech’ and on that basis alone it is easy for a company to think “that isn’t for a business like ours”.
There is an implied expectation that Innovate UK – who co-ordinate KTP funding – are looking for ‘sexy’ technology-based businesses when in fact they are happy to fund most projects so long as they increase the performance of the company, whatever sector they may be in.
KTP has always been open to all sectors: we have seen some great projects using experts from archaeology to nanotechnology, worked in sectors ranging from advertising to IT, and developed products as diverse as crisps and roofing felt.
Myth 4: “Universities will keep the IP”
Intellectual Property, or IP, is always a sensitive issue. In the past universities might have sought to keep the IP emerging from KTP, but these days they are increasingly tasked by government to show where their research goes and what impact it has in the real world.
KTPs are a great way to do this, and as a result it is not in a university’s interest to play hardball and lose a potential project unless they feel the work is genuinely world-changing.
While it remains true to the key principles which have made it a success for over 40 years KTP has never been more open for business.
In summary, working with a university on a KTP allows you to focus on your innovation, and opens the door to your own bespoke research team. Imagine what you could do with 3,000 research staff, and tens of millions of pounds worth of cutting-edge kit. A KTP can give you access to all this, without building your own university. The greater focus from government on productivity has also made this approach to knowledge transfer even more important, as there has been a growing realisation that all businesses need to innovate, grow and evolve.