Creativity in programs to foster innovation from Academia

In the past I have been involved in a few small or medium-sized initiatives to fund research or innovation. Policy makers that design these programmes have to balance the urge to guide the activity towards what they think it’s the right way to spend the money while allowing for the freedom and incentives needed to engage a sufficient number of academics. Actions that fund Academia and Industry collaborations struggle the most with this. One can find from very flexible frameworks of collaboration to specific, and creative, actions that fund interactions between university researchers and companies.

Below there’s a list of a few calls and programmes from UK Research Councils or internal university funds that support actions in direct collaboration with industry or towards spinning out and commercialising technology.

Centres for Doctoral Training (EPSRC)
CDTs are one of the three main ways by which the EPSRC provides support for doctoral training. The other routes are the Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP) and Industrial CASE Studentships (ICASE) and basically allow more or less industry involvement and discretion in choosing the strategic focus of the PhD. In CDTs one or several universities together with industrial sponsors supervise students (at least 10 per year for 5 years) all focused in one of a number of priority areas of national strategic interest. Industry needs to finance about 20% to 40% of the total cost of the studentships. The EPSRC defines what are the priority areas of research but gives flexibility on the models of collaboration between industry and academia.

Flexible Talent Mobility Account (BBSRC)
The FTMA supports Academic/Industry secondments and collaboration, as a two way people exchange. It covers the expenses of a secondment (not research) and it’s open to research students and postdocs. Awards of £5k-10k expected, with a duration of 1 week to 3 months.

Industrial Partnership PhDs (UofG, College of MVLS)
Short Term Industrial Projects, to develop solutions to grow business. 3 month placement, for a laboratory or desk-based project to support business needs.

PhD in Precision Medicine (Medical Research Council)
A 3.5 – 4 year PhD with industry, to increase collaboration with industry and gain skills in two distinct research cultures. Includes a 3 month placement with industry.

Proximity to Discovery (Medical Research Council)
Funding for engagement with industry (secondments or networking). Awards of £2k-£6k. Does not support industry or research costs.

Confidence in Concept (Medical Research Council)
Translation of fundamental science. Preliminary translational work. Diagnostics and therapeutic projects. Advancement of the path to commercialisation. Awards of £50-100K. Requires match funding (monetary or in-kind). Project expected to last 6-12 months. Reported research outcomes upon completion. Not for bridging funds or IP costs.

Excellence with Impact (BBSRC)
Stakeholder engagement. Projects in line with BBSRC strategic plan and can include: Product design, engagement with stakeholders, market intelligence. Awards of up to £5k assessed on case by case. Awards >£5k are panel assessed. Not for public engagement, staff or industry costs.

RSE Enterprise Fellowship overview (Royal Society of Engineering)
RSE Enterprise Fellowships enable promising science and technology researchers to develop into successful entrepreneurs. Awardees get to focus solely on refining their business ideas, whilst receiving one year’s salary, expert training in entrepreneurship and access to mentorship from business Fellows of the RSE and other successful entrepreneurs in the business community.

Impact Acceleration Accounts (several Research Councils)
UK Universities usually hold Impact Acceleration Accounts (IAA) from the BBSRC, EPSRC and ESRC, that aim to increase, advance and accelerate the achievement of impact from research council’s funded projects. The IAAs supports a range of Knowledge Exchange (KE) interventions with a focus on small-scale investments that pump-prime wider KE activities and impact generation. The IAAs typically provides two core funding streams to build on previous research council funded projects, proof-of-concept, and collaborative development.