From footwear to cell culture, kit homes to biotech, we hear from women leading innovation-focussed businesses about how a highly successful academic collaboration model helped transform their operations.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) are unique collaborative partnerships between businesses and specialist academics, working together to drive innovation. They’re a highly successful formula, and since 1975 have helped around 14,000 businesses to innovate for growth. Every year, approximately 800 businesses engage in KTP and that number looks set to grow.

Close collaboration between these two sectors seems like an obvious fit: a business needs fresh thinking and deep expertise to realise future-focussed innovation; academia is constantly pushing knowledge boundaries and developing new technologies. Together, via a KTP, they can achieve real impact.

But, despite its obvious success many businesses are not familiar with this Innovate UK programme. A host of KTP events around the UK over the next few weeks looks set to change that (find your nearest one here). And, to coincide with International Women’s Day, we hear from women business leaders engaged in KTP (this is our second blog – hear from more Women in KTP here).

First we hear from Chirine Riachy, Head of Data Science, at Charles Clinkard, a large, UK-based footwear retailer established 1924. It has since grown from one store in Middlesbrough into multiple online selling channels and physical stores spread throughout the UK.

“As a result [of growth], optimising the levels of stock…while retaining existing customers became pivotal to withstand a shift in consumer behaviour and a tough economic climate. The KTP project aimed to change Charles Clinkard’s business model to a data science advantaged enterprise by enabling more data-led decision-making and exploiting machine learning, particularly in the areas of stock control and marketing. This would lead to increased profitability as a result of streamlined business processes and increased sales.

A KTP was necessary for this innovation given its multifaceted aspects, technical challenges, cultural change requirements, and novelty to a well-established family business. The project concluded with a permanent data science division being created within the company.

KTP projects pave the way for businesses who want to exploit the latest advancements but do not have the expertise or confidence to do so.”

Chirine Riachy, Head of Data Science, Charles Clinkard

KTP is a highly flexible model, working across all industry sectors and for businesses of all sizes. Next we hear from Liz Jenkinson, Chief Executive of Biocleave a biotech company specialising in innovation in recombinant protein expression for customers researching in the areas of malaria, neglected tropical diseases, and cancer, for example.

“At Biocleave we are experts in the production of research proteins and other bio-molecules using non-pathogenic clostridia as our host microbe. Previously we had completed some small R&D projects with Dr Alan Goddard from Aston University….

The KTP came about as Biocleave identified that some recombinant proteins … seemed to be associating with the cell membrane. To exploit this feature commercially we needed to access the expertise of the Aston Centre for Membrane Proteins and Lipids (AMPL) team [who have] a specialist skill set we did not have internally.

I would definitely recommend KTP to other businesses; we’ve been able to make progress much more quickly by…connecting the technology elements from Biocleave and AMPL to advance our understanding and immediately apply the results to a commercial setting.

60% of all pharmaceutical drugs, including the top 10 best selling prescription drugs, target membrane bound proteins; so this is… an attractive market area to expand into.”

In a very different sector, KTP has been used to help North of Scotland-based timber kit home manufacturer, Norscot, to diversify its offering and address new markets.

Product Development Manager, Carla Resendez, takes up the story: “Our KTP with Teesside University was focused on designing and implementing a community-led, user-centred design process with the aim of developing affordable, modular,”smart home”; components to support the health and wellbeing needs of an ageing population.

Norscot had a challenge that required diversifying its offer to reach new markets, and the KTP provided the right mechanism for this as it allowed for the transfer of research methodologies into our product development processes with a human-centred approach.

During the KTP, we were able to bring the project from idea to launch, reaching initial commercial opportunities before the end of the project; it also provided the basis to set up a new section of the company focused on product development.

The words that sum up KTP for me? Growth, collaboration and ambition. And, based on my experience, I would recommend that companies of any size looking to innovate should consider KTPs as a must.”

And finally, Jenny Murray, CEO and founder of Life Sciences Group (LSG) gives us some of her KTP insights.

“Our KTP proposed the development of new defined serum-free media for cell culture and storage to replace undefined media containing animal-serum… The KTP gave us the opportunity to work with an experienced and talented team at Coventry University… and with equipment that we otherwise would not have been able to access…. The success of the KTP has led to the development of a new and potentially disruptive product; and allowed the business to meet the strategic aim of entering the market to supply animal-free media and reagents to the Cell and Gene Therapy field.

The strong relationship with the University has led to skills and knowledge being embedded within the business, allowing LSG to… further develop staff..and also look to the research and development of further products. The whole process was extremely collaborative and the outputs from this project will have a lasting impact on the success of the business.”

Do you think KTP could help your business innovate for growth? Find out more about KTP by visiting one of the many KTP events running over the next few weeks – a listing of them is here.

Or explore the KTP website for more information on how KTP could transform your business.

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