Improving university data on spinouts: a pilot project
Each academic year universities have to complete the Higher Education Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) survey, which collects data related to knowledge exchange. The annual survey reports information on a range of activities, from business and public or third-sector involvement in research to consultancy and the commercialisation of intellectual property.
Given the often decentralised nature of much knowledge exchange activity, the process of data collection can be burdensome for universities. Moreover, for the data on spinout activity, universities may rely on a patchwork of data sources and find it particularly challenging to secure robust information on the external investment raised, turnover and employment of spinouts, particularly for those companies that have left the university’s orbit. As a result, universities can struggle to submit robust and complete data to this survey, with adverse implications for assessment frameworks such as the emerging Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF).
To support universities, we undertook a pilot project with the University of Cambridge to explore whether it was feasible to improve the coverage and robustness of spinout data while simultaneously reducing the burden of data collection on individual academics and spinout companies. Working with Cambridge Enterprise we developed and validated a process to identify and verity spinouts, and match companies with data provided by different internal, public and commercial databases to secure information on key data points. A process was then developed to validate the data and aggregate to provide the relevant information for the HEBCI survey.
As a result of this pilot project, we demonstrated the potential for both increasing the robustness and completeness of spinout data to be submitted to the HEBCI survey, while also reducing the data collection burden on academics and spinout companies in reporting data.
For Cambridge this prototype process led to a significant improvement in its position within the second iteration of the KEF.
We are now planning to use the insights emerging from this work to create a robust national spinouts database designed specifically to meet the needs of public policy and university practice development, and reduce the overall burden of data collection in this area on unversities.