In the current global economic climate, there is more of a need than ever to connect the UK’s research and innovation ecosystem with ambitious innovative businesses, to further grow the UK’s position as a world leading economy. That’s why KTN recommended scaling up the KTP programme across Innovate UK and our Research Councils in its response to the UK Government’s R&D Roadmap. But what are KTPs, and why are they so beneficial to UK innovation? Joel Ferguson at KTN explains…

“KTPs are a fantastic route for companies to innovate and revitalise, and as frameworks through which to develop strong, long lasting relationships with universities delivering commercial benefit to an organisation’s knowledge.”

Rob Burgin, former MD, BemroseBooth Paragon (KTP funding Innovate UK and EPSRC).

The Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme, delivered by KTN, is a highly successful collaboration and knowledge transfer mechanism that provides a tried and tested route for commercialising academic research.

KTP gives businesses access to university facilities, knowledge and data within an R&D-focused context, and so delivers multiple positive impacts: it helps bring new products, services and processes to market; embeds expertise; creates research impact; seeds a culture of innovation; and opens up exceptional career opportunities for graduates.

For every £1 of grant invested, the KTP program delivers £8 GVA (gross value added), but while the economic benefits are impressive, KTP extends beyond the economic to deliver societal and environmental benefits too.

“Via our KTP we developed a new framework of practice in Greater Manchester – the first of its kind in the UK to be co-created with young people based on their lived experiences.”

Professor Hannah Smithson, Academic Lead on KTP for Co-creating youth justice practice with young people – Positive Steps/ Manchester Metropolitan University (KTP funding ESRC/AHRC).

Connections via KTP have transformed more than 14,000 businesses – the majority of them SMEs (75%) – since the programme began more than 45 years ago. And KTP’s legacy of success continues today, delivering demonstrable value to over 800 businesses, more than 100 Knowledge Bases and over 820 graduates, all actively involved in KTP projects right now, across the UK.

“The KTP programme is a wonderful growth opportunity. The company has increased its value and, even more importantly, has transformed its business model into something that can be moved into the future.”

Aquacheck Engineering (KTP results in turnover growth from £1.8m to £2.7m; Profit increases from 18% to 24%. KTP funding Innovate UK). The team from Aquacheck is pictured above.

The programme has evolved over time, but the core elements of a 3-way partnership between a business, an academic and an Associate – the graduate or post graduate who leads each partnership – have remained constant, as has the role of the Knowledge Transfer Adviser in supporting successful project delivery.

Acting as a mentor and facilitator of open innovation, our 31 advisers are key to the success of each project, contributing experience and expertise at every stage. As well as supporting the project, the adviser plays an influential role in developing and coaching the exceptional graduates that join the partnerships as KTP Associates, inspiring and fostering the innovation leaders of the future. The value this brings is borne out by the fact that 95% of KTP Associates would recommend KTP to other graduates / postgraduates. (source: Warwick Economics & Development report 2015: The Impacts of KTP Associates and Knowledge Base on the UK Economy)

“The embedded freedom to learn and deploy appropriate methods and tools is certainly a recipe for the rigorous and robust application of modern scientific knowledge to industry.”

Muddasar Anwar, KTP Associate, one of 8 Winners of the Future Innovator category, KTP Best of the Best Awards 2020.

But applying academic knowledge to industry doesn’t just bring benefits to the business and Associate. A key requirement of KTP is that all three partners benefit. For academic partners, not only do KTPs enrich their teaching and enable the application of their research to real world challenges, they also act as valuable pathways to impact for research, contributing to Impact case studies for submission to either the Research Excellence Framework (REF) or the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF).

The supported partnership model of KTP also encourages engagement with academics not accustomed to working with businesses. These partnerships are carefully facilitated, helping to build strong relationships, effective teams and project plans; embedding important skills and an appetite for collaboration. No wonder that 99% of knowledge base organisations would recommend the KTP programme.

KTPs also help to accelerate and evidence the flow and impact of Research Council-related expertise into business, and the career development of Council supported researchers.

“Inspire’s KTP with Ulster University has been an incredibly positive experience, resulting in a new capability for software development, creating digital mental health interventions that can reach out and disseminate vital mental health support across a wide variety of populations such as students, workplaces and harder to reach groups such as our local veteran community.”

Gillian Cameron, Inspire Workplaces (Funding: ESRC/InvestNI)

KTP brings together research and business in a unique collaborative framework, which is why it is supported across UKRI, devolved administrations and government departments. The KTP model has recently attracted additional funding for international expansion (African AgriFood KTP) and adaptation (to the more people and process focused Management KTP) – both initiatives evidencing the adaptability and scalability of the programme.

Innovation will be key to boosting economic recovery in the wake of COVID, and with the UK government target of 2.4% spend on R&D, there has never been a more important time for the UK’s research community to come together with UK businesses to deliver economic, environmental and societal impact.

KTP has a proven record of engaging businesses large and small, in all regions of the UK, to deliver impact and embed a culture of innovation. KTP is a proven model, the scheme is scalable and there is demand within UK business to do more KTPs. We urge UKRI to consider our recommendation to expand the KTP portfolio. We would encourage UKRI to build on the existing strong links between the Research Councils and KTP, and empower all the Research Councils to exploit the value KTPs offer more widely amongst their communities, as a highly effective part of the innovation portfolio.

“The KTP has exceeded all my initial expectations. We had previously used other EU funded research programs and this KTP has truly delivered well beyond any of those.”

Mark Newton, LMK Thermosafe (funding: Innovate UK and EPSRC)

For more information about KTP and to see the latest KTP Associate jobs, visit the dedicated KTP website at www.ktp-uk.org.