With the rollout of its “consultancy clusters”, OUI’s Consulting Services is showcasing the University’s breadth of potential consultancy power in a new light.
When companies and organisations run into problems they cannot solve on their own, it is prudent to look for an external viewpoint. And who better to provide a second pair of eyes than the world’s number one University? With its breadth and depth, Oxford has world-leading researchers in just about every scientific and humanities discipline available to provide consultancy.
Consulting Services (CS) manages consultancy for the University. It handles in-bound requests from external organisations looking for help, supports academics on consultancy deals and associated paperwork, and promotes the expertise of Oxford.
An area CS has been looking to grow while under lockdown is Oxford’s expert witness offering, where academics are brought into court cases to explain scientific evidence in a trial.
“Academics who have mainly been independent consultants before are coming back to CS because of the services we’re offering to assist them when acting as expert witnesses,” said Sally Sheard, who has been working to develop the service along with fellow Project Manager Kerry Antcliffe. “We’ve been working on an online platform for expert witnesses with OUI’s Marketing team to promote our activities and provide academics with key guidance, and have a webinar planned in September. As a result of our work in this area, we’re seeing a steady stream of expert witness requests come in.”
Dawn Gordon, Project Manager, said these “consultancy clusters” are incredibly important in promoting consultancy externally, as at present around 80% of all the CS deals are brought in by academics, indicating that there’s room for improvement. By enhancing the visibility of Oxford’s consultancy strengths, the team has its ambitions set on higher inbound traffic, resulting in more opportunities for income and impact for the academics.
“We’re currently exploring a collaboration with our Marketing team and statistics experts in the University to promote our expertise in stats,” said Dawn. “By making the stats expertise more visible, we’ll be able to generate more external interest and leads and bring more value add to the University.”
While the team work on new ideas to get increased visibility externally, they are continuing to develop their presence within the University. Unlike the commercialisation process, working with OUI and Consulting Services is optional for academics, so presenting the benefits of utilising their services is an ongoing effort.
Gurinder Punn, Senior Project Manager, has been collaborating with Dawn and the Industrial Relationships and Partnerships (IRP) team within the University to get their message across to the academic base.
“We’ve been working on a webinar for the whole of the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences division for CS and combining it with the activities of the IRP team,” said Gurinder. “This will be a first for us and a great opportunity to introduce CS and the support we offer to the entire division.”
The team are also aiding departments by looking at how they can provide support not just for academic consultancy, but access to equipment. Vincent Coole, Principal Project Manager, has been working with the Department of Oncology to help them achieve goals set out in the Department’s industry strategy by promoting the wealth of resources and expertise in its Small Research Facilities (SRF).
The work has two objectives: to help formalise the department’s relationship with industry, and to increase the impact of the SRF and enable it to support life-changing research globally. It’s the first time any department in the University has attempted to streamline its relationship with industry in this way, and is encouraging members of the Oncology Department to connect with industry partners both nationally and globally, leading to new relationships, research and business. Since embarking on the collaboration in September 2019, Vincent has helped the Department bring eight new partners into the SRF, including pharmaceutical companies, government bodies and other academic institutions.
Vincent added: “Given the challenging funding climate, exacerbated by COVID, collaboration with external partners is ever more important. We hope to work with other departments to help them develop similar frameworks – which will help them maximise engagement, funding, and impact.”
Providing Consultancy Support
The team have continued their bread and butter activities of providing routine consultancy support, such as the work Susan Clark, Principal PM, has been doing with Robert McNeil, Deputy Director at the Migration Observatory. Her previous work with Rob led to a research project, and the two organisations collaborated on another consultancy this year.
“Working with Consulting Services at Oxford has certainly been a huge success for me, personally, helping to generate additional income for both me and our team,” said Rob McNeil. “It has also helped create and develop relationships with external partners that have contributed to successful funding applications, including a major Horizon 2020 grant”.
“Working with the team at Consulting Services also takes a lot of the stress out of taking on external work, because I know the correct processes are being undertaken in contract negotiations, that I have necessary legal protections and that the right permissions are being arranged with my head of department.”
“We have, of course, been involved with a number of COVID-19 projects too,” said Andrew Goff, who heads up Consulting Services. The team has been busy providing consultancy to COVID-19 spinouts such as OxVent and OxSed, the NHS and government bodies, and into AstraZeneca to support the vaccine effort.
“We’re also helping academics consult back into their spinouts, recently supporting Ivan Martinovic from Computer Science with PhishAR, which has become the 200th spinout from the University,” added Andrew. “And we’re now providing an additional financial benefit to University departments by giving them our fee for the first year of consultancy into spinouts.”
“Overall, the resilience in the group has been tremendous, and I feel we’re ahead of many when it comes to incorporating new technologies to help us work remotely. Despite the challenge of the past few months, I feel very optimistic about the future of OUI’s consultancy activity.”
Consulting Services Stats:
- Enquiries: 840
- Total deals: 529
- Income: £4.49m
- Consultants deployed: 347
- Total consultants registered: 2,356
By making the stats expertise more visible, we’ll be able to generate more external interest and leads and bring more value add to the University.