Turning great ideas into practice

Last year at Sussex we created a new Enterprise Panel and Development Fund (EDF), with a support process to help staff get new products, solutions and creative ideas off the ground.

The fund, channelled from the government's Higher Education Innovation Fund, encourages collaboration across the campus to bring enterprising ideas to fruition: from technology, through software, to know-how.

Academic and research staff are encouraged to present ideas at an early stage, so we can help assess their potential. Support from the Research and Enterprise team and the on-campus business incubation hub, the Sussex Innovation Centre (SInC), helps get the project ready to present to the Panel.

16-element array of electric potential

A 16-element array of electric potential for non-invasive imaging of the electrical activity of the heart, built by Robert Prance's team at the Centre for Physical Electronics and Quantum Technology. Enterprise Panel support for the project includes: funding the production of the first prototypes; market research; and developing a Commercial Accelerator Plan, to fast-track the product's route to market.

Projects are assessed on their overall market potential, their risk and ability to generate income, their ability to encourage other commercial activity, and other indirect benefits to the University. The funding helps to prove concepts, explore markets, and develop prototypes and business models. It aims to kick-start product manufacture, to quickly launch projects and encourage self-sustaining operation.

We think EDF at Sussex is both novel and innovative, since it combines a number of elements: senior academic leadership, to encourage all academics to come forward with ideas; an open-ended development process, allowing ideas to be presented for robust evaluation; support from a proven on-campus business incubation hub; and a route for those activities to become commercially viable businesses. A highly flexible funding approach allows us to invest without being tied to a pre-determined model, and a flexible package of support responds to academics' development needs, and supports nontechnology ideas as easily as technology-based ones.

The results have already been significant. From a modest starting fund, in the first 18 months we estimate we have created new income of around £750,000. Successful examples include a software tool for analysing international trade policy choices; biometric and video analysis to improve the software game experience for users, and new imaging software that highlights and quantifies previously invisible anomalies within cancer scans. A dozen other proposals are at various stages of development. Our approach to supporting the development and transfer of academic ideas could find application in other institutions, and has attracted interest in the UK and abroad.

As the success of the EDF proves, Sussex research is delivering solutions to real-world problems, and finding new ways to translate blue-skies thinking into genuine commercial opportunity.

Professor Bob Allison - Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research

Professor Bob Allison - Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research