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The A level results are in, and another year of new students will soon be entering university, ready to soak up knowledge and ideas, and create new ideas of their own.

If there is any commodity in excess in our universities (apart from beer), it’s probably ideas. With academics, researchers and talented students working on ever-changing projects, managing those ideas and harnessing them can be an issue. However, universities have also realised that this wealth of ideas has a very real financial benefit for the institution when applied to real-world challenges.

Like many UK universities, The University of Oxford offers a whole wealth of partnership opportunities where businesses can benefit from the University’s activities, from hiring an academic consultant or using their facilities, to collaborating on a research project. Businesses can also join in Knowledge Transfer Networks, which are ‘an easy means of acquiring and sharing knowledge, and participating in the development and employment of that technology.’

Oxford is by no means unique in these kinds of opportunities for business to benefit from academia. All over the UK, universities are bulging with knowledge and ideas, eager to be let loose in the real world.

The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) aims to support university-business collaboration and to to make that ‘wealth of expertise, ideas and research’ accessible and available to business. One phrase in particular caught our attention from the NCUB Innovation Projects page:

“NCUB is passionate about translating inventiveness into innovation, harnessing this expertise to help businesses transform and grow.”

Translating inventiveness into innovation
It’s an interesting way of viewing innovation through being inventive. Inventive people can work their way towards creating solutions through trial and invention rather than relying on a flash of inspiration. Perhaps people who are naturally inventive are good at taking an idea, and turning it into a practical solution, rather than necessarily coming up with the idea Or they have an invention, and are not quite sure of the wider uses as yet.

As innovation managers, we want to encourage both the creative ‘blue sky’ ideas that seemingly come out of thin air, and those inventive ideas for solving a given challenge. Any ideas management solution must be able to receive, recognise and develop both styles of ideas, both on a virtual/theoretic level and on a practical level. It should enable ideas to be discussed, nurtured and developed, and draw on a wide range of skills and experience to help drive great ideas forward to completion.

However, some of the knowledge and skills required may not currently lie within your own business. An Idea Network that is flexible enough to include external partners could provide your employees with access to a whole different level of insight that might make the difference between a good idea and a superb one.

So, if you pass family cars bulging with boxes, duvets and nervous-looking teenagers over the next few weeks, bear in mind that they, their classmates and professors could be an invaluable source of inspiration, inventiveness and innovation for the future growth of your business.