All eight universities in the east of England have teamed up to create a brokerage service for business.
Known as i10, the network, which also includes Writtle College and Norwich School of Art and Design, will provide a single portal for local businesses looking to access university expertise and services. It is believed to be the most extensive collaborative business links network in the UK.
The £4.5 million project is chaired by Matthew Bullock, chief executive of the Norwich and Peterborough Building Society, who was the financier behind the so-called Cambridge phenomenon.
"Those universities that have engaged in successful relationships with industry have grown in the public regard. And when public regard rises, public funding usually rises, too," he said.
But he said that there was still work to be done to bridge the gulf between universities and business. "Companies aren't terribly interested, and universities haven't worked out how to speak their language."
The network will offer access to laboratory facilities, training, intellectual property management skills, assistance with securing European research funding and will set up collaborative research and development programmes.
Another aim is to address the skills shortage in the region by advertising local jobs to students, to encourage them to stay in the east of England.
Paul Kitson, in charge of marketing i10, who is also business communication manager for Cranfield University's enterprise arm Cranfield Creates, said:
"Until now the onus had been on businesses to find the right university for their needs. i10 will enable business and academic departments to interact in a less ad hoc way, with clear channels of communication."
The eight universities are Anglia, Cambridge, Cranfield, East Anglia, Essex, Hertfordshire, Luton and the Open University.