Free-range businessman hatches plans

Brunel hopes to profit from entrepreneur-in-residence's insights. Hannah Fearn reports

March 3, 2011

Brunel University has appointed an "entrepreneur-in-residence", who has been given free rein to work wherever and with whomever he chooses within the institution.

David Riley, who made his name in the recruitment business, is not formally attached to any department, has no line manager at the university and no direct responsibilities. But he said that the unstructured nature of the unpaid role will allow him to have the biggest impact.

"The idea of entrepreneurialism is that we dare to take a risk because we think there is a pay-off," he said. "The university has taken a risk in letting me go there, unattached to any department, with no boss and unfettered access to whatever part of Brunel I want to talk to.

"That's a rather unusual situation. It's an entrepreneurial approach to my appointment."

Mr Riley will spend up to three days a week at the university on a voluntary basis.

Andrew Ward, director of corporate relations at Brunel, said that the appointment was a first step towards creating a wider pool of businesspeople working within the institution.

Of Mr Riley's free-ranging role, he said: "If we made it too specific and too much like a normal university job, his interest would have waned. It's the open-endedness that's attractive to him."

Under the residency, Mr Riley will work with all students, not just those interested in business careers.

"We were most keen not just to introduce him to the engineering and business schools, but also to get him to work alongside the arts, sports and education," Mr Ward said.

Mr Riley established Mandeville Recruitment in 1992, selling it for what he said was a "large amount" to Randstad, one of the world's largest recruitment consultancies, in 1995. He has worked as a volunteer with schools and universities for more than 15 years.

The entrepreneur-in-residence has already carried out one-to-one sessions with students at Brunel to help them thrash out business ideas.

He will also book guest speakers and broker deals with local businesses to ensure students have "live" projects to work on.

In addition, Mr Riley will work with academics to help them understand how they can make the most of their research findings and intellectual-property rights.

"There is a great deal of innovation that occurs in the schools and research groups. There is a clear intention for me to get involved there," he said.

Tina Ramkalawan, a tutor at Brunel Graduate School, said that Mr Riley's early sessions with doctoral students and young researchers at the university had been particularly successful.

"It started them thinking about the fact that the language of other areas, such as enterprise and entrepreneurship, is applicable to them," Ms Ramkalawan said.

"It's about not thinking that academia is the be-all and end-all. You never know where your research might lead and who it might be of interest to."

Mr Riley said that the primary problem he had uncovered within Brunel was the failure of academics in different parts of the institution to share existing knowledge with their peers.

"Universities are very large places...Brunel's very large: like a battleship it can be slightly slow to move," he said.

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