How universities can be a secret weapon for business growth

Dr Harrison Evans, collaboration manager at Nexus, the University of Leeds innovation hub, offers his insights and advice to businesses on how they can benefit from the huge opportunities presented through working in partnership with universities.

Unleash the passion for learning in your business, says local expert


If you think about it, universities are probably the most diverse organisations on the planet. Where else could a business access, say, a statistician, a biologist, a software engineer, a graphic designer and a mechanical engineer – all within one establishment?

Yet the complexity of the emerging needs and challenges of society today, demand cross-disciplinary thinking and problem-solving. If we are to create the innovations which will help to meet society’s needs and challenges, deliver growth for business and our economy and increase our global competitiveness, we need diversity of thinking and expertise.

Graduates can add value to your team, says Nexus, who can help you find the right pairing

So, what can universities offer entrepreneurs, start-ups and early stage businesses and how can they be the “secret weapon” for successful innovation and growth?

World-class expertise

As well as skilled and talented graduates, who can add incredible value to your teams, you also have access to world-leading experts across almost every sector imaginable. You can extend your businesses capabilities through building long-lasting relationships with academics whose values are deep-rooted in curiosity, integrity and brilliance.

They have a passion for new discoveries and want to uncover hidden value and to solve problems that benefit society. For example, through effective collaboration you can enhance your technology, build new products, re-engineer a production process or get the latest insights on marketing and management science.

Research and development (R&D)

Putting the “R” into R&D is key to business growth and universities can help you to get the most value and insight from your research, bringing academic rigor and the latest and most robust methodology, to ensure you get the most value out of research.

Your business should demand excellence. So why not work with some of the brightest minds on the planet to improve your products and services, solve problems and enhance your business strategy? Excellent research can help to answer so many business questions: how strong is the science behind your product? What claims can you make about its impact and effectiveness? What substance and evidence can be used to support those claims? Is your production process as efficient and streamlined as it could be? Are you using the right materials? What else could you incorporate into your technology to give you the edge over your competitors? Could your technology be adapted to work in other sectors?

Research will help you to solve those and many other issues as it helps to optimise your business.


Universities are powerhouses of innovation and academics are able to work flexibly with you, on collaborations and as consultants, building long-lasting relationships to maximise value.

We’ve already seen 40 collaborative projects between Nexus member businesses and the University of Leeds, driving some incredibly innovative businesses, across a host of sectors including medical technology, transport, environmental sustainability and data analytics.

Investment in innovation also powers existing products and services – 82% of our member businesses have said they saw significant improvements in the range, quality and value of their business since engaging with us.

Access to funding

Nexus member businesses raised over £12 million in collaborative grant funding since we launched and one third have accessed private investment since engaging with us.

Finding the right funding vehicles to assist those collaborations is key to our role and we know that businesses are able to access a wider range of grant funding opportunities if they work collaboratively with a University.

Universities have a civic duty to tackle societal challenges and support economic growth, so funding is available for entrepreneurs whose ideas and innovations will help them fulfil those objectives and Nexus can help you access this.

How do I get started?

Universities have relationship managers who are there to specifically forge relationships with businesses. At Nexus, that’s my job. I listen carefully to our members and translate their business needs into R&D briefs for the brilliant academics at the University of Leeds or advice and support briefs for our wider network of business, professional services and financial advisors. I then feed back business-focused solutions to the company.

It usually starts with an open and honest discussion to build a holistic view of each business through understanding its ambitions, challenges and opportunities. We will then work together to find and engage the right experts to collaborate with to take your business to the next level.

Working together, businesses and universities can forge a dream team to meet their challenges, innovate and grow. Why not get in touch to find out how.

Interested in how Nexus can help your business?

Visit email [email protected] or call + 44 (0)113 3061 444