Business Engagement

What is Business Engagement?

Business Engagement works with key regional, national and international partners to develop academic-industry links and strategic business partnerships with the overall aim of generating positive reputation, impact and income.

The Business Engagement Partners work with many commercial businesses, small and large. Business Engagement can introduce you to companies in your area of research and set up commercial contracts for project collaboration. They can also help you to identify suitable funding mechanisms and advise on business case and project planning.

Your Business Engagement Partner

Andy Newnham

Tel: (0121) 415 8487 or 07964911458
Email: a.newnham@bham.ac.uk

Andy's aim is to create, develop and maximise strategic relationships with business that create impact, deliver income and increase the influence of the College of Social Sciences.

What does business engagement mean for you?

Business Engagement can cover a wide range of collaborations between academics and industry.

  • We have an open door policy, so there is a large degree of flexibility about what engagement with businesses can be and it often takes many forms, from conducting research projects that last for a few months or several years, to providing consultancy or testing and analysing methods and equipment. It can also be a secondment to a business in order to provide them with your expertise on-site.

This is an alternative means of gaining research funding.

  • Often, a business with a specific need will fund an academic or team of academics from the university to conduct research for them as they do not have the resources themselves to do so. It is usually a less formalised process for securing funding than traditional research grant methods, but the resulting piece of research would be eligible for the REF and would aim to produce an Impact Case Study. Alternatively, business engagement can mean securing businesses as partners to support bids for research grants.

Our business engagement is ethically sound:

  • The university adheres to a strict due diligence policy to ensure that the businesses we work with are ethical and sustainable. Also, while research is often commissioned by a particular company, we go to great lengths to ensure the research we carry out is always objective and independent.

Why should you engage with businesses?

You can deliver practical, real-world change

  • Through working with businesses you are able to produce research that has a real world impact and to witness that impact yourself. It can often lead to changes in policy, but its impact on day-to-day practice should not be undervalued. Simply put, engagement maximizes the scope for impact and implementation of your research.

You can empower people and influence policy and practice

  • There is a re-distributive element to business engagement as you are able to share the knowledge and expertise you have with the people who need it in their everyday lives. Ultimately, you are using evidence and knowledge to produce an evidence- and knowledge-based society. The more people understand the research you do, the more they are empowered to take your ideas, evidence and research and make use of it to impact organisations, attitudes, behaviours and practices.

It is mutually beneficial

  • Engagement is a two-way street. For you as an academic, it provides a context to your research which highlights the importance and relevance of your work, and stakeholders often bring as many ideas to the table as they receive. This reciprocity makes it more meaningful and purposeful. You also benefit from exposure to intellectual puzzles, as you are faced with the ever-changing problems, challenges and concerns of the real world that businesses face. As for the businesses, the high-quality academic rigour that we bring to the engagement is highly valued by stakeholders as it brings with it a wider evidence-base, broader examples of good practice and an outsider’s perspective which often challenges current practice.

You gain access to people and data

  • Through engagement you are able to work with a wide variety of people: service user groups, young carers, politicians, businessmen and public servants to name just a few. This means you are able to draw on the expertise of the people who use the services you are researching, and they have invaluable insights and can provide useful ideas and contributions to your research.

You can raise the standard of public debate

  • Engagement raises public awareness of the cutting edge research and thinking behind public and social policy. This allows for a more educated debate about social and political issues that affect everyone.

You work towards the societal greater good

  • As social scientists, we are at our core interested in the societal good, our work is largely focused on the management and efficacy of public services, third sector interests and social policy. Engaging with businesses and people who work in these services is a means of ensuring your research will have a real impact on society. Similarly, as academics, your research is often funded with public money – this is our way of giving back.

You will develop essential professional skills

  • Through engagement you are able to enhance vital professional skills, such as stakeholder engagement, relationship management, even sales techniques when it comes to pitching your research and expertise. These skills have a wide variety of applications and you will foster new working relationships which will be of great use throughout your career.

Ultimately, you raise your research profile

Through the unique experience that business engagement opens up, you are able to promote yourself and deliver your engaged research to new people in new places. The connections often open up more and more opportunities for future collaborations and engagement. Alongside this, the university rewards and recognises engagement. Engagement is represented through the Influence strand of the Strategic Framework 2015-2020, Making Important Things Happen, which proves the university’s commitment to a coordinated approach to and more thorough recognition of engagement and its desire to have an impact in the real world on policy and practice.

What is effective engagement?

Meaningful, purposeful and mutually beneficial

  • It benefits all parties and has a significant impact on policy and/or practice

Builds good working relationships

  • These can be personal and/or political but they are always grounded in respect

Co-production and co-learning

  • It is a collaboration; all parties contribute

Everyone is treated as equals

  • Authentic relationships are built upon mutual trust and respect for what the other party can contribute to the collaboration

Case studies

Healthy Bottom Line

Professor Fiona Carmichael, Birmingham Business School and Dr Steven Sadhra, Health and Population Sciences, work with Health Exchange.

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A project between Health Exchange and the University has been kick started with funding from the ‘Accelerating Business- Knowledge Base Innovation Activity’ (ABIA)*. ABIA is uniquely operated by the University of Birmingham to underpin growth amongst SMEs operating in certain sectors within the West Midlands region.

Health Exchange is a leading health and wellbeing organisation based in Birmingham. It focuses on two key aspects of health – promoting healthier lifestyles and managing long-term conditions more effectively.

This project will tap into the expertise of Professor Fiona Carmichael from the Birmingham Business School and Dr Steven Sadhra from the University’s School of Health and Population Sciences. They will be supervising a group of PhD students, to undertake a review of the effectiveness of integrating workplace wellbeing activities into organisations.

“The University of Birmingham and Health Exchange are working in partnership, combining cutting edge research and leading practice, to ensure health and wellbeing interventions are as effective as possible. This will start what we hope to be a programme of future activities that draw on the strengths of the University and of Health Exchange, to enhance solutions for clients.”
Elayne Pugh, Business Development and Work Style Lead at Health Exchange

Housing Associations' Charitable Trust (HACT)

Professors David Mullins and Angus McCabe, and Dr Tricia Jones - School of Social Policy - work with HACT.

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The Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust (HACT) is an ideas and innovation agency for the social housing sector, operating on a social enterprise-based model.

HACT required academic expertise to develop services that would be beneficial to its target market. Working with Professor David Mullins and Angus McCabe, School of Social Policy, funding from Innovate UK (formerly known as the Technology Strategy Board) allowed an honorary fellow from the University, Dr Tricia Jones, to be based with HACT for 2 years. During this time Dr Jones oversaw a project that helped HACT deliver a huge transformation to reflect the equally large changes taking place in its housing-centred marketplace, investigating and developing new opportunities as they arose, with a particular focus on identifying and developing innovative insight and learning from across the social housing sector and beyond. As a result, HACT is now able to translate social science based research into marketable learning packages and disseminate learning with the Housing and Communities Research Group at the University of Birmingham. They have created a new role of Research Manager and annual sales turnover has seen an increase of over £600k as a direct result of the KTP project.

“The KTP was instrumental in enabling HACT to transform its business… Our partnership with the University of Birmingham and its Third Sector Research Centre has positioned HACT as the market leader for creating new knowledge sharing platforms and new insights for social housing providers.”
Andrew van Doorn – Deputy Chief Executive, HACT

One Point Three Steps Closer to Birmingham Business School

Birmingham Business School's MBA Programme works with One Point Three Limited.

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Links with the Birmingham Business School MBA Programme were a key factor when management consultants, One Point Three Limited, decided to relocate to Birmingham. One Point Three has an innovative offering that accelerates behaviour change in business organisations.

“One important factor in moving to Birmingham was the close partnership that we’ve formed with Birmingham Business School. We’ve recruited a team of consultants from the School’s internationally acclaimed MBA programme that really does produce top performers and we also regularly sponsor MBA students to do research as part of their dissertation.”
Dr Andrew Wells, Director at One Point Three

The research involved interviewing top industry leaders for their views and experience with Birmingham MBA students generating direct access to over 120 CEOs and senior directors collectively responsible for over 5 million employees and the combined revenue of £600bn across their organisations. This has resulted in a fresh, insightful exclusive body of knowledge about how best to gain competitive advantage through people.

Prime plc - building a stronger knowledge base

Hilary Brown's - School of Social Policy - work with Prime plc.

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Prime is a property development and investment company that fund, design, construct and maintain health-service related buildings. They have a diverse set of clients ranging from GPs, community healthcare providers and Local Authority partners.

One of the main challenges that Prime faced was the lack of systematic knowledge management across the organisation and subsequent access to robust, evidence-based data on its performance and its products. This meant that new business was harder to win and there were delays and duplication in progressing existing projects. These issues had a commercial impact on Prime because it was missing out on the income from potential new business and experiencing the additional cost that delay and duplication inevitably incurs.

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Hilary Brown, School of Social Policy, helped Prime develop the in-house knowledge and necessary skills to establish processes for collecting information and a database to enable easier retrieval and analysis of data.

The Prime Facts database and robust knowledge management processes has led to a more evaluative culture within the organisation.

“Working with the University of Birmingham on this KTP project has been invaluable in supporting our business strategy and objectives going forward. Having a dedicated University of Birmingham (KTP) associate on site has enabled us to focus on delivering the project on time and on budget.”
Ann Pursey, Group Partnerships Director, Prime plc

SME Success: Winning new business

Professor Mark Saunders talks about a collobarative project funded by funded by top 20 Chartered Accountants Kingston Smith LLP.

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Professor Mark Saunders talks about the benefits of engaging with business:

What is your project about?

Professor David Gray (University of Greenwich) I are collaborating on a project and have recently been awarded research funding to explore how successful Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) win new business.

The project comprises both an online survey of over 1,000 successful UK SMEs and a series of case studies drawn from different sectors. It is our fourth project that has been fully funded by top 20 Chartered Accountants Kingston Smith LLP. The research findings will be used to better advise SMEs on how to grow and become more successful as well as in research papers.

How were you first introduced to Kingston Smith?

I was initially introduced to Kingston Smith in 2012, when David and I were asked to tender for a project to research about what success meant to UK SMEs and the characteristics of such SMEs.

This project “Success in Challenging times: Key lessons for UK SMEs” ( http://www.kingstonsmith.co.uk/media-and-resources/success-in-challenging-times-key-lessons-for-smes/   ) lead to two further fully funded research projects being commissioned by Kingston Smith in what has become known as the “SME Success” series of academic research projects. These were “Bank Finance: Lost in Translation” (http://www.kingstonsmith.co.uk/media-and-resources/smes-and-bank-finance/ ) and “Generating Social Capital” ( http://www.kingstonsmith.co.uk/sectors/entrepreneurial-businesses/success-in-challenging-times-2/ ).

How will this project inform your research and teaching

Findings from the three projects to date have informed our research resulting in both conference papers and journals articles. In addition the methodological insights gained through the projects have been used to inform and illustrate my research methods teaching at the University of Birmingham and also feature in the 7th edition of my text book Research methods for Business Students (http://www.pearsoned.co.uk/bookshop/detail.asp?item=100000000571971 ).

How do you balance your time between KT activities with your Teaching and Research commitments?

Recognising the difficulty of balancing research, teaching and applied work such as the SME Success series of projects, I believe the benefits far outweigh any personal costs. Each project has been planned carefully to ensure that deadlines agreed with Kingston Smith as the client are met, whilst still ensuring all teaching and other academic commitments are fully honored. Invariably this means at times working late into the night to meet the client organisation’s deadlines.

What are the benefits of working with business?

In my case, Kingston Smith not only provide funding and a sounding board for the research but also are able to help with access and ensuring the findings are reported widely in the national media.

They also recognize the importance of maintaining academic rigour and integrity in the research. Kingston Smith has launched each project report in London at the Google Campus with Mark and David sharing the platform with people such as the Minister of State for Business and Enterprise and the founder of the Great British Entrepreneur Awards. Findings have also been presented as evidence to the Treasury Select Committee on SME lending. Subsequently the data are being used in academic papers.

What advice would you give to your academic colleagues interested in working with business?

I would recommend colleagues take the opportunity to undertake such applied research. I believe that building links between academia and practice can support research that is both rigorous and relevant, inform teaching and is enjoyable.