Many universities and research institutes have offices that engage with business and provide a link between staff and the non-academic world. Often referred to as tech-transfer offices, innovation centres or business development units, they are usually part of an institution’s central administrative function and they often hold events and workshops to address questions around commercialisation, Among issues considered they may cover intellectual property rights, company law, contracts, networking, business plans, budgeting and sources of finance.
Social scientists might need different support than STEM colleagues, who are perhaps more used to working in the commercial world. This can include understanding what the potential added value of their research outputs are for non-academics, or what resources are available to make it sustainable. There are a number of sources of support available from within your research institution such as assisting with the project process from initial concept to business plan, commercial launches, and sustainable enterprise. External support is also available and includes training, toolkits, networks, funding and investment.
- Professional support staff – such as impact acceleration accounts, business engagement/knowledge exchange teams or tech transfer teams who can offer due diligence, market research, business modelling, consultancy, contract and IP specialists, and data, marketing and communication services.
- Commercialisation strategy (at faculty or university level) – to help identify areas of priority, direction of travel and scope such as the inclusion of postgraduate research and support, consultancy service, social enterprise, spinout company or licensing.
- Funding – including allocations from grants for impact acceleration (such as ESRC Impact Acceleration Accounts), knowledge exchange funds and funding from endowments and other internal sources.
- Developing a strategy for sustainability – a strategy can allow a researcher to continue investigating and developing his or her field of interest and retain the original momentum of a project, and provides clarity on who has responsibility for helping to scale up and sustain the impact. For example, support can be provided by a small team of people who have relevant experience and an understanding of the value the research can have in a commercial environment. Additional support may also be provided by PhD students who take on some of the routine necessities of commercialisation. For those academics who prefer to oversee commercialisation for themselves, specialists from a business engagement office may act as mentors and provide assistance and advice at all stages of the process.
Support outside the university
Outside your institution, there are several ways to support commercialisation of your ideas.
- Knowledge Transfer Partnership: An excellent way to learn more about how a business works is to be involved in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). KTPs are a UKRI-supported programme which provides matched funding to support an individual for up to 2 years to undertake knowledge transfer work between a university and a partner organisation. KTP projects are often set up to address the needs of private sector partners, but they can also be set up with charitable partners and public sector partners – provided that the research element falls within the arts, humanities or social sciences.
- Aspect (a social sciences platform for entrepreneurship, commercialisation and transformation) is a network led by an alliance of seven UK universities who are encouraging collaboration between academics and businesses, and applying social sciences to private and social enterprise. It aims to address the challenges of social sciences commercialisation.
- Incubators: ZINC is a company incubator (spun out of the London School of Economics) which aims to help budding entrepreneurs create technology-based companies and products to fulfil specific social missions in the developed world.
- Start Up Loans are government-supported loans available for small businesses (including social enterprises) to help them to start up and accelerate in their first 24 months. Successful applicants also receive mentoring and support to help them succeed.
- Social Enterprise UK (SEUK) is the UK's largest network of social enterprises, and a leading global authority on the social enterprise model.