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How Universities are Funding Innovation in a Time of Crisis


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Whilst many students have taken the plunge into a remote and socially distanced university experience, international students have— understandably—not been so fervent in moving abroad during a pandemic and shelling out huge sums of money for digital classes. This represents a significant disruption to normal streams of university income.

On top of this, large events and conferences will no longer be a viable way to make money, and long-term investments are likely under threat, with some of the bigger infrastructure upgrades on hold. With large levels of debt at many universities across the country, it’s fair to say that some of these institutions will be facing existential crises. 

This would be a massive loss to the country. Universities are not only the backbone of education, research and innovation, they are also a fundamental driver of long term economic growth and employment.

graduation from university

Universities UK found that in 2011-2012, through both direct and secondary or multiplier effects, the higher education sector generated over £73.1b of output and over a quarter of a million full-time equivalent jobs throughout the economy. The total employment generated was equivalent to around 2.7% of all UK employment. Those figures are likely to be much higher almost a decade on. 

With student funding restricted there’s now a greater pressure on universities to build up income from businesses, but the usual partners are also under tremendous financial strain. The first casualties of budget cuts are CPD and research and development. 

Having spoken to Beauhurst clients across the full range of institutions, we’ve heard that many are finding new ways to adapt. Whether through commercialising intellectual property (IP), expanding CPD courses, consultancy or supplying equipment and materials—they are building out the partnerships that will flourish over the next few years.

This not only represents an opportunity for universities to counterbalance lost income in the short term, but also expand the impact of their research over the mid term, facilitating a new generation of world-class technology, retraining or upskilling the current workforce, and addressing the productivity challenge. These long term factors are integral to the UK’s economic recovery. 

university students during covid-19

While the economy as a whole is struggling, our data shows that there are plenty of opportunities. The UK’s high-growth companies, particularly those with innovations in the tech sectors, have shown incredible resilience through the pandemic. 

But we’re not just talking about startups here, we track almost 12,000 businesses that are in the growth or established stages of evolution, indicating that they’re operating with great traction and generating enviable financial results. We recently found that these businesses are bouncing back fastest from the crisis, with plenty of manpower, turnover and experience to weather the storm. These businesses collectively spent £1.8b on R&D over the last 12 months.

Current impact of COVID-19 on selected tech sectors

Impact of COVID-19 on selected tech sectors

key high-growth company metrics 2020

R&D spend in latest financial statements

£ b

growth investment

£ b

grant funding

£ m

Sound like an opportunity you’d like to take advantage of? Here’s how some of our clients are using the Beauhurst platform to leverage the high-growth space and maximise commercial opportunities. 

Strategically finding the right sectors to focus on

Our Explore tool shows you a comprehensive view of any sector, including the flows of investment, grant funding and the combined impact of coronavirus. You can even see a heatmap or location map of all the relevant companies, so you can zone in on nearby opportunities.

Beauhurst explore tool location map of precision medicine startups

Engage long term knowledge exchange partners

Knowledge exchange income requires focusing relationship building on businesses with a shared research interest, appetite for collaboration, and capacity for long term investment. Beauhurst provides visibility of this trifecta in a searchable format. 

Find shared research interest by searching for keywords in a company description, their grant abstracts, or the news articles they’ve been featured in. Establish an appetite for collaboration by seeing previous business partnerships and relationships with universities. See what kind of budgets they have by looking for recent funding rounds or checking recent financial statements for cash, intangible assets and profitability.

photovoltaics companies UK

Once you’ve identified these targets, you can quickly see everything you need to know about them to make a friendly, intelligent approach in one centralised company profile. Done your research and ready to reach out? Get through to the research lead, training lead, or whoever the relevant person is, straight away with verified contact details on all C-suite employees.

Oxford Photovoltaics company profile

Monitor existing client base

Over decades universities have built up 10,000s of business relationships spread across 1000s of academics and the research and enterprise teams. Within this pool of potential partners a lot of time can be spent on reacting to queries, and little time remains to focus attention on those business leaders that can genuinely help the university to reach its CPD and consultancy objectives.

Although our core package of companies focusses on those that are high-growth, we also hold insights on location, SIC code, directors, corporate structure, and financial data on every company registered in the UK. This All Company Data feature is everything you dream Companies House could be: intuitively structured, searchable and in a clear and readable format. 

Upload a list of your current clients onto the platform and create a Collection. You’ll then be able to filter through your relationships to highlight which will be the best long term partners for each research centre. You can then strategically expand on the highest potential existing partnerships. 

You’ll also receive notifications for any filings, so you can easily monitor changes in turnover, their level of intangible assets, and their research and development expenditure so you can respond quickly as the recession unfolds.

Beauhurst client update

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