How to harness academic expertise

the board wants to innovate and you’ve got to hire the people who’ll bring in
the new ideas, the research techniques and the enthusiasm to reinvigorate your
product offering, marketing initiatives, or manufacturing operation. How do you
go about it?

are two government-run schemes that allow businesses to bring in fresh
innovation from universities and their students:


primarily by the DTI, this scheme places high-quality graduates in companies on
two-year innovation projects, overseen by academics at the partner higher
education institution. Companies are required to invest £16,000 a year. The 295
projects completed in 2002 reported an average 
annual increase in pre-tax profit after programme completion of


its inception in 1986, this scheme run by Business Link has placed more than
14,000 undergraduates in eight-week summer projects. The content of the
projects is always driven by the business’s innovation needs, ranging from new product
development to installing computer networks. Fully paid for by the Small
Business Service, the host company needs only provide management time. In 2000,
55 per cent of participating companies profited by more than £2,000.

graduates directly

addition to the government-funded schemes, most universities run programmes
designed to provide potential employers with the opportunity to get a good look
at graduates before employing them. GIEU, established in 1993 as an independent
unit of the University of Liverpool, is fairly typical. It has placed more than
5,000 graduates in 2,000 businesses through six-month placement projects, has a
tailored recruitment service, and its ‘Windmills’ training programme aims to
give graduates necessary business skills.

to make it work for your organisation

Build a strong relationship with a local university: if managed correctly the
university could be a key partner in the long-term acquisition and development
of your most important asset – your people.

Interview every graduate thoroughly: you need to ensure that they have not only
the technical competence to perform in the role, but also the maturity to cope
with the progression from university to working life.

Ensure that all projects are set up in response to market need rather than just
to take advantage of government funding or to exploit and exciting new
technology: if a completed project turns out to be commercially useless it is
not only financially damaging for your company, but will also be
soul-destroying for the graduate involved.

Be prepared to commit a considerable amount of time and attention to the
project: the process is hard work but, if managed correctly, is a proven method
of introducing innovation into a business.

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