Manchester is helping innovative students take their ideas to market, says Robert Phillips
Five years ago, 12 centres were set up with government investment to empower students to transfer specialised academic knowledge to the market and, in doing so, stimulate the wider economy. One of these is Manchester Science Enterprise Centre, where we work to encourage an enterprise culture, from undergraduate to PhD level and from science subjects to the humanities.
One of the unique features of the centre, which works with students from Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan and Salford Universities, is that staff are taken on because of their scientific and commercial experience rather than their academic business credentials. We provide personal case studies, and we have hands-on experience.
At undergraduate level, we teach credit modules in enterprise in scientific and technical subjects that range from bioscience to textiles. We also teach transferable skills such as team working and analytical and presentation skills. Teaching includes interactive workshops and a programme of external speakers that includes successful entrepreneurs. We are set to start teaching humanities students from next year. This semester, we have also begun teaching enterprise as part of an MSc chemistry course.
Our masters programme in enterprise provides students with the opportunity to continue with their academic subject while spending half their time working on a business idea linked to it. Students are given a desk, computer, telephone, use of a boardroom in the Business Creation Unit and access to mentors and contacts. They also receive help in finding finance for their ventures. As the project element of the masters programme in enterprise is to get a business running, many successful start-ups have been created from this programme. There are plans to open a second-stage incubator to allow successful start-ups time to develop after leaving the BCU and before having to move into the real world.
We are setting up courses for PhD students and postdoctoral research fellows so they can take advantage of any patented technology that they might develop as academics. These courses teach academics to identify whether technology would be better licensed out or whether a spin-off company could be set up. Fostering these skills in students can help bring in vital external funding for the university because companies are increasingly willing to fund PhD students and research positions in universities. Research councils also offer grants to encourage knowledge transfer. This expertise opens up new career options to research scientists if they decide to leave academia.
Robert Phillips is an enterprise fellow at the Manchester Science Enterprise Centre. Details: www.msec.ac.uk