Creative collaboration

The prestigious Lord Stafford Awards celebrate collaboration between universities and businesses in the West Midlands.

The Caparo Innovation Centre (CIC) – a successful partnership between the University of Wolverhampton and Caparo – scooped the top prize in the Open Collaboration category at the recent awards ceremony.

There was a double celebration on the night as the Advanced Business Development Network (ABDN ), which benefited from a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University, won the Cisco Prize for New Technologies.

A helping hand to innovate

Andrew Pollard is Industrial Professor at the Caparo Innovation Centre, and was delighted to see its achievements recognised at the awards.

“The category was a new one for 2010 and when we saw the criteria we just felt it fitted so well with what we are doing here. The CIC is a collaboration between Caparo and the University but we involve third party inventors in the development of products, so open collaboration is very much what we are about,” he says.

The Centre has three main roles. Firstly, to provide access for Caparo companies to University skills and resources, such as specialist market research, design and prototyping.

Secondly, it is open to approaches from independent inventors and may offer a partnership agreement to develop products for a share in the profits. Lastly, the CIC has new product commercialisation skills, which are available to other companies and organisations in the region.

One of the Centre’s current projects is an iPhone application called ‘Consume Within’. Developed from an inventor project by a new spin-out company, Unibyte Ltd, the app is all about managing the food within your kitchen fridge, freezer and cupboards.

It keeps a record of when items are due to go out of date and alerts you when they are due to expire.

Another CIC success story is the Caparo RightFuel device, a clever invention which prevents motorists from filling petrol in diesel cars. The brainchild of Martin White, who partnered with the CIC to develop and license the patent rights, the device won a double gold award at the British Invention of the Year Awards in 2008.

Andrew believes it is the collaborative element that makes the Caparo Innovation Centre a success.

He says: “We have managed to get the synergy of benefits a University can bring to a project and what industry can add, so we have the creativity and technical capacity from the University side and the focus on results and implementation from Caparo.”

John Wood, a Caparo Director who has worked with the CIC from the very beginning, agrees: “Through our combined expertise, we have been able not only to assess and develop many product innovations, but also commercialise them in a manner that benefits all parties. Working with the University of Wolverhampton we have been able to provide much needed support to inventors by giving them access to a combination of practical business experience and advanced academic support.”

The Caparo Innovation Centre can be approached at any stage of development – from having a patent and a prototype to the mere glimpse of a way to solve a particular problem. The starting point for everybody is to register through the website (www.wlv.ac.uk/cic) and submit an idea.

Every day can hold a new surprise for staff at the CIC, as Andrew explains: “The range of ideas that people bring to us is immense. You can never rely on your first impressions – very often the best ideas come as something of a surprise.”

So what advice is there for budding inventors? Andrew says: “A successful inventor requires a lot of skills. You need to have the passion and belief in your idea because you will come up against endless hurdles and barriers. You need to be careful about sharing your idea with others, yet at the same time get input from the right people with experience in the market you are interested in. We are able to offer inventors a helping hand with all of these.”

Following on from the Lord Stafford Award win, the Centre is planning yet another way of assisting inventors. The £5,000 prize money will be used to set up a new website that will present an Open Marketplace for inventors and inventions.

When completed it will showcase products that can only be bought directly from the inventors, helping them to get their ideas off the ground.

Networking showcase

The Advanced Business Development Network (ABDN) was also pleased to receive recognition for its collaborative approach by clinching the Cisco Prize for New Technologies.

ABDN is a network of 19 West Midlands manufacturing companies that work together to improve competitiveness and win bigger contracts than they could achieve individually.

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University enabled ABDN members to improve their digital marketing skills and introduce IT systems to enable members to collaborate. These developments led to more than £200,000 of new business.

Based at Malthouse Engineering Ltd, but working with all of the ABDN members, the KTP has employed a specialist marketing graduate to carry out the work.

Paul Buszard was the academic lead on the KTP at the University.

He said: “Although the University of Wolverhampton is one of the country’s biggest participants in KTP programmes, this is the first project to involve a cluster of companies. The team involved in the KTP – Roy Taylor, Managing Director of Malthouse Engineering, Jim Wood from the ABDN and several specialist academics from Wolverhampton – have worked together really well and we are all very pleased with the results.”

The success at the Lord Stafford Awards illustrates the University’s commitment to collaborating with West Midlands-based companies to get new ideas, inventions and projects off the ground, improve competitiveness and enhance productivity to the benefit of all involved.