It’s been more than forty years since the first Knowledge Transfer Partnership took place; that was 1975. Since then, the model of pairing education and researchers with businesses looking for opportunities has seen much success.
The Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) programme, delivered by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, funds a business so that it can improve its competitiveness and productivity, in a three-way project incorporating the business, academic institutions, and graduates.
The graduate is employed by the university but is based at the company, working on a strategically important project, which enhances the long-term capability of the business.
These partnerships help to identify innovative solutions, boosting profitability by increasing sales, allowing access to new markets, and growing a competitive advantage.
For example, Newcastle University's first KTP was in 1980, and in total they’ve had 160 projects worth £20m. Newcastle, Northumbria, Durham, and Sunderland universities can all deliver KTPs around a variety of subjects.
A small business taking part in a KTP typically receives between £80,000 and £120,000 in funding. In addition, businesses of all sizes can benefit from the additional resources, access to specialist academic expertise, strengthened links with their university and improved access to future funding.
The project is also given consistent, hands-on support from a team of academic specialists from the university, and both the graduate and the business can access university facilities throughout the duration of the project.
There are some rules for participation: Firms must be an SME, and have a minimum of five full time (or full time equivalent) staff. The project must generate wealth for the UK economy through increased sales or profitability. Co-investment will be required; the average is £21,000 per year.
Based in Newcastle upon Tyne, Brushtec specialises in the consultancy, design and manufacturing of brushes for cleaning equipment manufacturers.
They were using a ‘slow method’ of mounting their brushes, and wanted to increase production and boost competitiveness by designing a robotic machine, which could automate their assembly processes.
Taking part in a KTP allowed Brushtec to prototype a robotic machine to complete this task, and generate a new revenue stream by leasing it out. This created greater manufacturing flexibility for them, and the potential for increased future sales.
Academically, this gave Newcastle University a bank of knowledge on trends in this industry, and allowed them to foster a collaborative relationship with the Brushtec team.
Barry Crackett, design engineer at Brushtec Technology Ltd, said: "We have always invested in cutting edge technology as the company has gone from strength to strength. The project is an example of us always trying to get something faster and more efficient."
David Butler, KTP associate, said: “I have had the opportunity to work within an exciting and innovative manufacturing company, managing a major project that should yield significant benefits to the company.”
Established in 2012, Hyperdrive Innovation uses lithium-ion battery technology for electric vehicles and battery energy storage systems; they design and build electronic products for electric, hybrid and conventionally powered vehicles.
Working with Newcastle University's School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering on this KTP, they wanted to develop a better product - a Battery Management System (BMS) which manages a rechargeable battery – by making it more efficient.
This would reduce operating costs for the customer, and utilised Newcastle University’s expertise in automotive power electronic converters.
The KTP delivered a working prototype, which improved battery efficiency and allowed Hyperdrive Innovation to both expand into new markets, and seek additional funding for the project.
Academically, the University was able to update its teaching materials, expand its research group, and ultimately the associate working on the project secured a job with Hyperdrive.
Peter Allan, KTP associate, said: “The combination of working as part of a dynamic engineering team at Hyperdrive Innovation with mentoring support from Newcastle University has been invaluable in kick-starting my engineering career.”
Robin Shaw, engineering director, Hyperdrive Innovation Ltd, said “The KTP allowed us to accelerate development of key technologies which complement the company’s strategy, and cemented our relationship with Newcastle University.”
All of the North East’s universities participate in a variety of KTPs – take a look at our support pages for details.