Science and TechnologyWritten evidence submitted by Engineering YES

This submission is made in response to the Terms of Reference—Item 7.

What other types of investment or support should the Government develop?

It is made by members of the Engineering YES management group.

Engineering YES is a Big Society project harnessing voluntary contributions from experienced industry experts which allows engineering researchers to understand the gap that sits between their research ideas and commercial reality. Research students and staff work to understand what must be considered when putting together a credible business plan for a novel technology. The team running Engineering YES is drawn from a mix of business and academic backgrounds:

Dr Jo Gilman—Project Coordinator (Loughborough University).

Dr Jo Whitaker—Head of IP and Commercialisation (Loughborough University).

Ms Veronica Strain—Researcher Training & Development Manager—Enterprise (University of Nottingham.

Mr David Scott—Freelance Licensing and Business Development Consultant (Loughborough Beacon Rotary).

Mr John Boyes—Freelance Engineering Management Consultant (Loughborough Beacon Rotary).

1.0 Introduction

We believe that one of the main issues facing researchers in Universities who would like to commercialise their discoveries is a fundamental lack of knowledge of how to go about it. There appears to be a misunderstanding that as long as an idea is good enough, then the entrepreneurs of this world will come to them and make it all happen. There is little appreciation of the time or effort required because the fundamental processes involved are not understood. This is far reaching and, amongst other things, includes a lack of appreciation of the mechanics of the process; lack of knowledge as to who possible stakeholders might be; a low awareness of external stakeholder drivers; language barriers resulting in an inability to communicate the benefits of research to these groups and poor financial awareness which limits their options to move forward. Therefore we believe that training is an essential element that is needed to build this bridge.

2.0 Engineering YES

We run Engineering YES (Young Entrepreneurs Scheme). This is a 3.5 day training course that sits in the “Valley of Death” and bridges the gap between University Researchers and UK industry. The training is wrapped up in a team-based business plan competition and is open to Research Students and early career Research Staff from different Higher Education Institutions around the country.

2.1 Aims of the programme

Our main aim is to build participants knowledge of how to commercialise ideas, as well as encouraging an enterprising and entrepreneurial culture in the engineering researcher community in the UK.

2.2 How it works

Teams of researchers compete to create the most credible business plan for a fictitious engineering based discovery as judged by a panel of industry professionals. Participants come together at different hotel venues around the country for a series of workshop style “heats”. Each heat runs to the same format. Participants attend presentations from leading industry figures on all aspects of technology transfer and the commercialisation of engineering ideas, including: the requirements of a business plan; intellectual property and patenting strategy; raising and managing finance; commercial and marketing strategies, and case histories. This content is all delivered by successful entrepreneurs and industry professionals.

They are also given access to a pool of experienced industry mentors drawn from commercial and engineering environments with whom they can book appointments on each afternoon of the course. During these sessions, great initial ideas are often exposed as unworkable, which leaves the teams re-assessing their options and re-designing their plans late into the night.

Ultimately each team will prepare an oral business plan presentation for their ‘imaginary’ engineering start-up company, with each member assuming a different Director role within the company (eg Management, Finance, Research and Development, Marketing or Operations). This plan is presented to a panel comprising business, financial and academic representatives taking the role of venture capitalists.

2.3 2012 Competition

In four years Engineering YES has grown from a local competition with just six teams, to our 2012 event in which we expect to attract 18 teams (around 100 participants). We plan to run three heats with six teams participating at each—in the South Midlands; the East Midlands and the North West of England. The top two teams from each heat win through to the Grand Final which is held at the Birmingham Science Park Aston. There are a range of prizes to be won for things such as the Best Elevator Pitch, Best Use of Intellectual Property and Best Teamwork for example, with the overall winner taking a £2,000 first prize.

We already have commitments this year for multiple teams from the Universities of Nottingham, Liverpool, Manchester, UCL and Loughborough, with some interest from Poland and the USA.

3.0 Management and Delivery of the Programme

Engineering YES is fundamentally a “Big Society” project. It is managed by a collaboration between individuals from Loughborough University, the University of Nottingham and Loughborough Beacon Rotary. The original idea grew from discussions between Rotarian David Scott and a Loughborough University employee Andy Wilson. All the Rotarians involved in the management of the project give their time without financial reward. All the industry contributors, mentors and judges also give their time for free and get so much from the event that they return to give their time year after year. The 2011 event received the active support of 14 speakers, 15 judges (including five Venture Capitalists) and some 20 mentors.

University employees’ work on the project within their normal roles and the project coordinator takes a small payment to run the project. This structure will support our ambition to become an international event in the coming years as we work through our HE and Rotary networks to expand our reach from our centre in the Midlands.

4.0 External recognition

The Engineering YES team were rewarded for their efforts this year when we were “Highly Commended” in the Enterprise Champions category of the National Enterprise Educators Awards. We hope this will help us build our credibility and profile and thus our programme in the coming years.

5.0 Funding the Programme

The cost per participant is £750. This covers a briefing day delivered by Video Conference from Loughborough University, a 3.5 day course full board at a local hotel and the Grand Final. Historically the funds for this course have been drawn from the EPSRC Enterprise training budgets that came into Universities as part of the Roberts Agenda for additional transferable skills training for Postgraduate and Postdoctoral Researchers. This funding was allocated depending on the number of Research Council funded students within each institution. Therefore some Universities received hundreds of thousands of pounds, and others received just a few hundred pounds. This has meant that some Universities have historically not been able to raise the money to send researchers onto our programme.

5.1 Sponsorship

From 2012, the EPSRC is withdrawing this funding source from Universities. Applications this year are harder to find than expected, with many Universities simply not being able to find the funds necessary to send their researchers. We are relying on the funds of the larger institutions and have managed to secure a small amount of industry sponsorship of places. Whether this strategy can sustain us in the long term is yet to be seen.

So far in 2012 we have secured the sponsorship of one additional team through E.ON sponsorship, and are hoping to continue our relationship with Rolls-Royce who worked with us in 2011, as well as building new links with new supporters and sponsors. The Engineering YES business plan competition offers sponsors the chance to get close to some of the best engineering research talent currently working in our Universities. It is a great chance for them to engage with this special cohort of people, to forge relationships, and ensure that these entrepreneurs are aware of local employment opportunities and potential partners for their ideas so that they can choose to use their skills with local firms to benefit the local economy, rather than moving on elsewhere.

6.0 Long Term Survival of the Programme

We believe that the long term survival of our programme is at risk. We also know that it is a fantastic programme which delivers on many levels. Participant feedback is enthusiastic, full of learning, and demonstrates high levels of long term impact on researchers in many ways—one of the more notable results being the increase in researchers who think they will run a spin-out business at some time in the future. It is based on Big Society principals and delivers industry and business benefits demonstrated by the willingness of high calibre individuals to return and give us their time year after year, and our ability to attract small scale industry sponsorship.

6.1 Why it matters

The Valley of Death is why it matters. No amount of money made available to researchers alone will build your bridge unless the people you give it to can spend it wisely. We are in an information and knowledge economy, and this is one of the areas where there is not enough information or knowledge in the hands of the innovators in the Universities.

Training programmes like this need to be nurtured and developed to ensure that the right information gets to those working at the cutting edge of research.

We offer you a description of Engineering YES as one example of great programmes that are currently in existence in this country working to bridge this gap which hits the UK economy so hard. While we accept that Select Committees are unable to investigate the interests of individual cases, we hope that by bringing this to your attention it illustrates the will in this country both in industry and academia to facilitate this learning, and highlights the need to deal with the knowledge and information gap which is an integral part of any solution to this problem.

February 2012

Prepared 11th March 2013