Meeting Business Leaders of Tomorrow

Last week at least three important subjects cropped up that I want to talk about in the future; the important opportunities presented by ministerial commitments at the 6th March summit on the Low Carbon Industrial Strategy; our progress and challenges in introducing an effective R&D procurement process, SBRI, to benefit both business and government in the UK; and the the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme, one of Europe’s leading graduate recruitment programmes.

But space is limited, so in this blog I want to focus on KTPs.

I was really inspired by the commitment and enthusiasm at last week’s Annual KTP Awards ceremony; I am a great fan of KTPs as part of our portfolio and follow their progress with great interest. It was a real honour to be asked to host this year’s awards, held as a black tie celebration event at the Landmark Hotel, London.This is the 33rd year of the KTP programme. There are currently over 900 active KTP projects across a wide range of sectors, covering nearly every university in the UK and engaging a wide number of small and SME businesses. They help drive knowledge exchange between universities and SMEs and contribute to positioning innovation at the heart of the UK’s action for economic recovery. In these difficult times I believe KTPs to be one of the UK’s greatest public sector innovation success stories. It is a win for business, who secure good effective knowledge transfer from universities to help resolve an identified business challenge;  it is a win for universities who secure research funding as well as getting a good insight into the needs of business; and most importantly it is a win for the KTP Associate who gets a real job with real development opportunities and often a route towards a long term career within the selected business. The scheme is also a model for collaboration between funding providers, with a partnership across 18 different public sector funding providers together with private sector investment.

The Technology Strategy Board, which leads the programme, itself invests some 20m per annum on the scheme. It is little wonder that Lord Sainsbury’s ‘Race to the Top’  focussed a number of actions around KTP development, including a target to double their numbers. The Technology Strategy Board is also working very closely with the regions to introduce a shorter KTP model, with an emphasis on a voucher based payment scheme.The Awards ceremony was an excellent evening with good keynote speeches from both Graham Spittle, Vice President IBM and our Chairman and Lord Paul, Deputy Speaker of the House and, appropriately, both a successful businessman and a University Chancellor. One of his universities, Wolverhampton, has 24 KTPs to its name, one of the largest number across any university establisment.

There were too many awards to namecheck everybody but I will mention a few that particularly caught my eye; for example the winning partnership between Goss Interactive Ltd and the University of Plymouth where the KTP has led to an estimated increase in sales of 200k, an estimated increase in profits of 80k and a new product commercialised 12 months earlier than expected – an impressive set of results. It was great to meet with the ‘Business Leaders of Tomorrow’ winners, the Associates who were recognised for demonstrating real leadership potential by their regional advisors and businesses. For example, Anna Reid working with Newcastle University and Northumberland County Council on a project to design a model for the teaching of enquiry skills with the assessment and recording of learning outcomes in digital portfolios by secondary students. Anna certainly displayed her own leadership skills on the night, having brought along Year 9 students Laura and Cole from Bedlingtonshire Community High School with teachers as well her University sponsor, and made a big impact on the assembled audience.The overall winner of the year went to OMG Plc and Oxford Brookes University. The KTP research results have already been applied in a major Hollywood film project.

It was a great evening and I urged everyone there to become an external KTP advocate for what I think is still unfortunately one of the UK’s greatest Innovation secrets rather than at the front of everyone’s mind.The success of the evening has made me reflect on what else we can to maximise the contribution of the programme, and particularly to the innovation recovery actions being taken during this economic recession.We are keen to work with DIUS to ensure KTPs are better recognised for what they are -a high quality established STEM recruitment scheme,playing an integral role in deliveringinternships to SMEs. It is proposed that KTPs complement and are used as an integral part of the DIUS internship programme.We are already investigating the potential to change the funding ratios to further support SMEs. Increased uptake will, at the same time, benefit not only recently qualified people through developing their business potential but will also help companies continue to innovate during the recession. The government funding of KTPs helps mitigate the risk for the company by reducing their contribution to the project costs whilst giving direct support from a university recognised as being expert in their field.Acceleration of the ‘Short KTP’ provides the opportunity for those recently qualified to undertake and manage a short duration project, under strict supervision, in a company.  It provides not only the practical application of the qualifications they have gained, and develops their business readiness, but also helps the company improve its competitiveness. Currently, the infrastructure is being put in place to support the shorter version and to include existing schemes currently being run by One NE, EEDA and SEEDA. Wales and Northern Ireland have recently launched short versions of the KTP programme and the UK Pilot funded by the Technology Strategy Board and AWM has just been approved for launch in the next couple of months.

A final thought is to more formally link some of the KTP objectives with the technology and innovation priority objectives elsewhere in the Technology Strategy Board programmes and, in particular, for some of the larger collaborative R&D programmes allocate Knowledge Tranfer Partnerships, both classic and new short schemes, for businesses to engage with Universities engaged in the programme and facilitate a wider knowledge exchange of the technology developed.

A weekly review of our press cuttings shows just how much impact and outreach the KTP programme is having. I would like to see others recognise this strength, not just as a stand-alone KTP scheme but as an integral part of the innovation and skills action for recovery being progressed across Government.It is great to celebrate success but it is even greater to see how we can leverage this success for even bigger things – KTP is already one of Europe’s leading graduate recruitment programmes but in future will help even more in the Technology Strategy Board objective of driving innovation for UK business success.

Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:36

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