Creating value from knowledge
Ulster University’s commercial consultancy and technology commercialisation services work with hundreds of businesses to turn world-class research into tangible solutions
Ulster University head of innovation and impact Fiona McElroy: ““We work with hundreds of businesses annually in the delivery of effective innovative and research-based solutions and we offer a range of services designed to help businesses grow and become more competitive.”
Companies throughout Ireland are benefiting from Ulster University’s commercial consultancy and technology commercialisation services. “Our strength is in taking our world-class research and turning it into useful knowledge, tangible products and even companies,” says Ulster University head of innovation and impact Fiona McElroy. “We work with hundreds of businesses annually in the delivery of effective innovative and research-based solutions and we offer a range of services designed to help businesses grow and become more competitive.”
Projects can involve new product development, core research, solving a technical problem or simply driving internal efficiencies. “We engage our researchers and academics to help solve tangible issues specific to business needs and we’ve provided innovative business solutions to 1,500 clients locally and internationally in the past five years,” McElroy adds.
One company to benefit from collaboration with Ulster University is James Leckey Design Ltd (Lisburn), which designs, develops and manufactures posturally supportive equipment for children with special needs. A recent knowledge transfer project embedded leading-edge computer science capability from the university’s Connected Health Innovation Centre.
Specifically, the project integrated existing and emerging “smart” technologies within traditionally mechanical products, such as wheeled walkers and postural aids, and provided innovative ways for children with physical disabilities, such as those with cerebral palsy, to undertake prescribed exercise while also generating data evidence to support clinical assessments. As a result of the collaboration, Leckey developed a new line of technology-enhanced products that launched in 2019.
This new line of products is not only innovative for the company, but also for the sector and aims to provide new cutting-edge offerings that consumers are beginning to expect in any products they purchase.
Another successful collaboration involved Inspire Wellbeing, a Belfast company which delivers market-leading mental-health and wellbeing services to more than 300 of the UK and Ireland’s leading private, public and third-sector organisations, providing support to more than 750,000 people.
The project combined the latest computing science and psychology expertise to develop a new technology platform to offer mental-health screening and support to organisations whose employees are at risk of secondary traumatic stress where their job involves curating disturbing digital media.
The resultant platform, Inspire Support Hub (inspiresupporthub.org), incorporates a sophisticated AI-enabled chatbot interface providing employees with instant access to a range of information, guidance, screening and intervention tools, tailored specifically to help care for their individual wellbeing needs. Crucially, it enables employers to offer more appropriate interventions and reduces the financial burden of face-to-face counselling services while retaining the quality of services and high levels of clinical governance.
The Hub empowers people to take their mental wellbeing into their own hands and is currently being trialled with 85,000 teachers and special needs assistants in Ireland, before being rolled out to the 750,000 end users.
Biotechnology company SiSaf develops drugs using its unique, patented bio-courier platform technology, ProSilic. The project brought together the complementary skills of SiSaf and the laboratory of Prof Tara Moore at Ulster University with its long-standing interest in developing personalised medicines for blinding eye diseases.
The aim of project was to develop a new “eye drop” using SiSaf’s revolutionary new nanotechnology to overcome drug delivery challenges in ophthalmology to treat, cure and prevent eye disease with enhanced outcomes. The project outcomes will allow clinical unmet needs to be addressed by enabling SiSaf to develop new pharmaceutical products for rare diseases that will have a major impact on those severely affected by corneal eye diseases.
These are just a few examples of the many successful joint and collaborative research projects engaged in by the university. The projects are varied in nature and range from sponsorship of industry-led PhD projects to complex multi-project framework arrangements. Ulster also plays a lead role in a number of Invest NI-funded Competence Centres, designed to facilitate strategic collaborative research between businesses and universities.
‘Optimise the benefits’
Each project is assessed on its own merits. “Rather than having a one-size-fits-all approach, Ulster works with potential partners to agree on the best approach to optimise the benefits of the project,” says McElroy. “Ulster owns a diverse portfolio of intellectual property which is being actively translated into monetary value by our technology commercialisation team. Our commercialisation activities consist of new spinout creation, licensing to established companies, and open innovation where we invite individuals and companies to assess our IP on minimal licence conditions.”
Academics, including students, are encouraged to become involved in start-up creation and the university has a programme of activities to support innovative entrepreneurs. This includes participation in Lean Launchpad, mentorship by a network of established business professionals, start-up funding and preferential access to venture funds including Ulster’s own Énbarr fund. “We currently have 19 active spin-out companies, with a collective turnover in excess of £50 million, employing over 700 staff,” she adds.
Some technologies maybe not be suitable for a new start-up and instead are licensed to established manufacturers. “Our technology commercialisation team maintains a network of relationships with established manufacturers in order to efficiently translate our intellectual property into royalty bearing licences,” says McElroy.
“We also encourage entrepreneurs and companies to assess our intellectual property portfolio as part of their own entrepreneurial or development journey. Our open innovation model includes a zero-cost short-term evaluation licence to enable interested parties to assess our intellectual property.”
To find out more about working with Ulster University, contact firstname.lastname@example.org