Industry-Sponsored Research Week

Imperial’s ‘Business Partners’ program offers deeper engagement opportunities


By David Schwartz
Published: November 5th, 2019

It’s not as if Imperial College has been unsuccessful in initiating industry partnerships; in fact, the UK university is currently engaged with about 350 companies in corporate-sponsored research alone. However, industry engagement programs can always create room to grow and even better serve industry, and that’s what Imperial is doing with its Imperial Business Partners (IBP) program.

“This is a different mode of engagement,” says Dr. Simon Hepworth, Imperial’s director of enterprise. “It’s a membership program, one of several offers we have to companies where they can engage. It’s different from sponsored research. We have plenty of those — each year industry funds £70 million, or about 25% of our activity.” In IBP, he explains, “we’re helping companies navigate technology, and to some extent, themselves.”

IBP, he explains, is about seven years old. “It’s a smaller club (there are currently about a dozen members) where we can engage those leaders more intimately and help them find a direction,” he says. “We have a series of events. It started with dinners, where we brought in a number of thought leaders and different technology leaders.”

These early events were set in London, but there were so many, Hepworth says, that members did not have time for all of them. “Now we’ve cut that down to bigger flagship events,” says Hepworth. “We have a conference every year asking academics to discuss their latest discoveries and think about how they may impact society 20 years from now. Last year we also ran partnership events, discussing innovation journeys in collaboration with MIT’s Industry Liaison program.”

In addition, he says, each member can participate in “pathfinder projects,” where they explore new technology areas they had not previously been exposed to. “We curate this experience, engaging with some of our thought leaders from the academic base,” Hepworth explains.

Imperial seeks to further expand this aspect of the program, which currently has between 25 and 30 projects. “We’ve adopted a chapter model, so for example we have a Fintech chapter; we focus on particular sector needs, and we’re contemplating a nutrition track as well,” he says. “Both areas resonate with our academic base.”

These projects “are more likely to be consultancy rather than research,” says Hepworth. “They are typically shorter term, although one of the outputs could be a longer-term project.”

The membership fee is £50,000, and, he adds, amd “the member would broadly need to be aligned to our mission.” Most companies, he points out, work on technologies that match the research efforts of the university, which center on science, technology, engineering, and medicine.

A detailed article on Imperial’s Business Partners program appears in the October issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For complete subscription details, CLICK HERE.

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Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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