Collaborate locally for enhanced benefits

As the world grapples with the COVID-19 crisis, a debate is arising across the globe regarding university education and, more specifically, management education. By Samir Dani, Colin Rigby and Emma Bonfiglio

The higher education sector has worked rapidly throughout the crisis to adopt a digital learning environment to enable continued learning. This emergent approach has had its advantages and disadvantages, however it has also brought into focus the value of education in its own right.There are several articles within ‘Global Focus’, the ‘Chartered Association of Business Schools’, and BizEd asking questions such as – What is the future of Business Schools?; What is the future of the MBA?; What is the value of Business education? The articles discuss the challenges of leadership, CSR vs. shareholder value, sustainability and the future of the world, and other aspects of the future of the world of work including diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity. Despite the pandemic forcing this debate into the fore, business and management schools also have an opportunity to take cognizance of the fast-changing world we live in, and the new technological social models that will influence how organisations create business models. As business and management educators, we need to create a learning environment for students that provides academic models and concepts as well as an experiential environment to implement them.

Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff put forth the concept of the Triple Helix model of innovation in the 1990s. They proposed that interaction between university, industry, and government was essential to foster innovation. Instead of a linear model of innovation based on linear transactions between the entities (university–industry, university–government, government–industry and vice versa), the triple helix model provided a more holistic environment. The model brought together interactions between these entities towards an objective (in most cases innovation or commercial exploitation of research) and was directed by the focal entity within the transaction. Here we only give is a very brief and superficial summary to capture the essence of the Triple Helix concept, which has been researched extensively since it was first introduced within the area of innovation and knowledge management and subsequently used within public policy. However, this article picks up the Triple Helix concept to showcase the work we are doing at Keele Business School (Keele University) in the UK to provide both regional economic growth and innovation and at the same time provide enhanced student learning.

The Keele Research and Innovation Support Programme (KRISP)

The Keele Research and Innovation Support Programme (KRISP) was designed to engage small- to medium-sized businesses in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire with the University, develop applied company research that will result in the development of products and processes and in turn increase growth and job creation. The ambition is for KRISP to help SMEs increase their innovation capacity, introduce a formalised approach to research and development and a commitment to investing in innovation activities. There is also an expectation that the relationship will continue beyond the initial KRISP project to further funded research or in-curricular activity.

By providing dedicated human resource and academic expertise, KRISP delivers the knowledge, focus and procedures to help local SMEs bring their innovative products and services to market quicker and support their long-term sustainable growth. This programme is part-funded through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the England 2014 to 2020 European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme.

The Innovation Teams (Keele Business School) provide academic support and dedicated human resource to the SMEs, and including:

  • A Business Engagement Manager, to be a dedicated point of contact for the business for the duration of the project and beyond, and broker in other university and external partner resource for the business where necessary;
  • A Research and Innovation Advisor, to scope and define the project brief, supervise the work of the RD&I Associates, ensuring that the aims and objectives of the collaboration are met on time and within the budget plan, and input research expertise and/or subject knowledge, where necessary;
  • Research, Development and Innovation (RD&I) Associates, to be a dedicated resource working to a defined brief on the business innovation. The RD&I Associates undertake the main delivery of the innovation support through a model of student consulting, both individually and as part of teams as the specific SME project demands;
  • Academic expertise to ensure the project reaches its full potential.

During the first round of funding (2016-2019) KRISP supported 151 companies covering every borough and district in Staffordshire, UK. It assisted with 100 new products, process or services at company level and 56 that were new to the UK market. It created over 40 full-time jobs and recruited 256 RD&I Associates. KRISP and the KRISP team were re-funded (2019-2021) through the Smart Innovation Hub project (SIH). The SIH is a mixed-use facility that houses the newly named Keele Business School, a mixture of different sized offices, networking and event space as well as being a physical gateway for businesses. Open to the public, the hub was designed to provide a space for students, businesses and academic to collaborate both formally and informally and continue to offer the same opportunities to businesses in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire. The Smart Innovation Hub is also a local government funded infrastructure project that fits within the Triple Helix concept.

The Keele Research and Innovation Support Programme (KRISP) was designed to engage small- to medium-sized businesses in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire with the University, develop applied company research that will result in the development of products and processes and in turn increase growth and job creation.

This programme is a classic Triple Helix innovation model, however what sets it apart from the default triple helix is the involvement of students in running the projects with the help of academic supervisors. Unlike a dissertation element of business education or a live case project (real time of simulated) assessment, this is a formal live commissioned project and provides the student a valuable experience of applying their learning in the real world. The student ‘consultant’ or ‘associate’ is an integral entity within the project and innovation process, and hence there is a level of interaction between the four entities – in this case: local government–industry–university–student. All four entities are providing and receiving in the process of delivering the project.

Hence, we could potentially term this concept a Quadruple Helix model of Business School education rather than Triple Helix. It is important to note that the student plays an important role within this helix both as a learner and a consultant. The Quadruple Helix is, in fact, not a new term. It was put forth by Carayannis and Campbell in 2009, and was used to some extent within the scope of management education by Rebernik in 2009. However, the original Quadruple concept was based on innovation whereas the Rebernik model represented the student as an entity within the model but missed the role of government.

The KRISP Process

The overall activity takes around ten weeks (of student activity). It consists of a series of key milestone meetings. Extra meetings with both the student and the client SME are added when needed with regular support via phone or online. The project is scoped initially by the university and the client SME to ensure it can be effectively tackled within the student learning environment. It is important to note that government involvement in this exercise is manifested through the funding provided over the four-year period for university–industry engagement. The student is paid and has the opportunity to gain experience whilst applying their academic learning. They also become part of the student consulting group with training in creative problem-solving and client engagement and are invited to events at the Smart Innovation Hub to further enhance their learning experience.

The focus within each innovation project is to encourage the student to apply academic knowledge in a consulting capacity to a client SME. Initially the scope was limited to engagement from the business school but since its introduction it has been successful in completing student-led projects across the whole institution.

  • The student across this process learns to apply their academic learning in an applied and dynamic setting.
  • The student learns to present their research findings and their own critical analysis to different audiences, both verbally and in writing.
  • The student learns to receive critical feedback on their work and to also defend their research.

Other outputs which are project dependant include:

  1. Business Plan
  2. Business Canvas
  3. Testing protocols
  4. Evaluation protocols
  5. Coding work
  6. Platform design
  7. Business modelling

The KRISP project also provides further engagement opportunities both for the Keele Business School academics and for the companies, including knowledge transfer, short courses, collaborative research funding bids, internships, and graduate opportunities for students. The Quadruple Helix opportunity thus helps:

  1. Industry – to find resources for innovation and in turn provide support for student learning, to help increase economic growth in the region
  2. Government – to provide funding for economic growth as well as providing work-based experience to students
  3. Keele Business School academics – to work with industry on a variety of initiatives and to integrate experiential learning within the curriculum
  4. Students – to work with industry and support real-life challenges and in turn receive skills to join industry after graduation.
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