Everybody seems to agree Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) are a great way for small businesses to deliver step changes in performance and capability. They give companies access to expertise and smart thinking that can propel them to the forefront of their sectors.
KTPs are a three-way partnership between a company, a ‘knowledge base’ – usually a university, business school or research institute – and a recently qualified graduate known as an associate. Associates are embedded in businesses to enable new, game-changing expertise and knowledge to improve competitiveness, productivity and performance and accelerate technical innovation.
Running from one to three years, they are part-funded by government agency Innovate UK via Knowledge Transfer Advisers, who work for the Knowledge Transfer Network. An SME can expect to contribute around a third of the project cost, around £35,000 a year on average1, with the associate usually employed by the ‘project’.
You can apply for a KTP directly through an academic institution or contact a local Knowledge Transfer Adviser.
Working with universities
Helen Donnellan is Director of Business Engagement at De Montfort University and has been involved in many successful KTPs, including one that led to a small-scale sports equipment manufacturer designing the ball used in the Rugby World Cup.
She says: “At the core of any KTP is the relationship with a local business. Typically, a firm outlines their project idea and if it’s suitable and we have the relevant expertise, the university provides a process and framework for the KTP to develop and finds a suitable associate.”
Normally that’s a De Montfort graduate with an ability to lead a project or possibly a suitable candidate from another university. Either way the associate always reports to the De Montfort’s academics.
“KTPs really are a fantastic opportunity and an effective way for SMEs to create space for innovation that’s not possible in their normal daily working environment,” says Helen.
“They’re great value because you get an associate to develop vital research, maximise its value and create a solution you can take through to development plus all the expertise, support and knowledge of the experienced academics behind them.”
According to Helen, that means businesses usually get more out of a KTP than they ever expected.
That’s been the experience of Hertfordshire-based SME, Drax Technology, an alarm management solutions specialist with a client base of UK hospitals and universities operating on multiple sites.
One of its core roles is to collect fire system monitoring data from thousands of alarms, panels, sprinklers, detectors and other critical life-safety devices such as blood banks and drug fridge alarms.
Drax Technologies’ existing system enabled various life safety devices to communicate and transmit performance data enabling clients to assess and manage their systems by looking at compliance, performance, reliability, maintenance and replacement.
“However, this data was collected at dedicated terminals requiring a technician to use it,” explains Director Alex Cother. “What we really wanted was a system with a user-friendly interface available to everyone. We’re a tech-focused business but we didn’t have the expertise on board.
Drax approached University of Bedfordshire, which recommended setting up a KTP, with 1st Class Honours software engineering graduate Usman Ali embedded as the associate in 2017.
During the £100,000, 27-month project, Usman, backed by expert big data academic Paul Sant, developed a cloud-based monitoring solution that could be accessed through a relatively straightforward ‘dashboard’ on laptops, tablets, mobiles and desktops.
With the product now in operation Alex says: “Usman brought with him a totally different skillset and huge academic back up. Our contribution was 25% of the project cost – money well spent.
“The project’s taken us forward significantly – we’re now looking at offering new compliance services, including water quality, fire door monitoring and energy management.
“Commercially we’re in a very strong position we wouldn’t have achieved without the KTP.”
The opinions expressed by third parties are their own and are not necessarily shared by St. James’s Place Wealth Management.