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    Guide: Why collaborate? An overview of the benefits of investing time, money and expertise in collaborative R&D partnerships

    The idea of a collaboration will often come about as a result of needing to take a product development to a higher level of technical or market readiness. Other drivers might be the need to bring in new knowledge or skills to take the company to the next level. Here’s a guide to collaboration from the Transport Knowledge Transfer Network

    Why collaborate?

    From the view of an SME, or indeed a larger commercial organisation, the idea of a collaboration will often come about as a result of needing to take a product development to a higher level of technical or market readiness (TRL/MRL). Other drivers might be the need to bring in new knowledge or skills to take the company to the next level in order to maintain growth or the need to prove capability to meet the needs of a potential customer. In an extreme case it may be a demand stipulated by a key customer, but this is rare! From the other side of an academia to business (A2B) collaboration, universities may have to commit to a certain level of industry collaboration to meet funding criteria or they may see real benefit in exposing their best creative, engineering brains to the rigours of the commercial market place. In some instances a collaboration may also result in the university benefitting from new equipment or tools, initially for a specific project but often left as a legacy for the benefit of the wider department.

    One of the key determinants of the conditions for any collaboration is whether it is a straight business to business (B2B) arrangement or is partially supported by a grant funding scheme? In this latter case there may well be a third party that will be monitoring and measuring input and involvement to ensure funds and resources are fully and fairly utilised. There are many such support schemes and they may entail differing levels of supervision and measurement. Of specific interest to the automotive industry are those that come under the auspices of the UK’s Technology Strategy Board (e.g. competitions within the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform), the EU’s Horizon 2020 (e.g. under the ‘Smart, green and integrated transport’ programme) and those facilitate by the various Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

    Whatever the nature of the collaboration it is imperative that clear and robust ground rules for the partnership and the rights of the various parties are put into place at the earliest stage. These should be subordinate to the business reasons for the collaboration in question and there are several well established tools available to newcomers to deal with these issues. Amongst the best known are the BS11000 guidelines and the Lambert toolkit. “Both these have been developed on the back of extensive knowledge and experience of collaborations across a wide range of industries over many years. Whatever the nature of your proposed collaboration turning to one of these tools would be a good place to start,” advises Adrian Vinsome, newly appointed interim Director at the Transport KTN.

    Outline of BS11000 fundamentals

    This offers best practice guidelines for collaboration from consideration of partnership through execution of collaboration to termination. It proposes key stages to be considered which are:

    • Awareness (including the fit with business objectives)
    • Knowledge
    • Internal assessment
    • Partner selection
    • Working together
    • Value creation
    • Staying together
    • Exit strategy

    It also includes guidance on developing a Relationship Management Plan process document for the collaborating organisations to abide by. The above principles themselves can form best practice guidance for a specific collaboration of companies which may then wish to opt for BS11000 accreditation. For further information visit

    Outline of Lambert toolkit

    Although originally developed to facilitate university/industry collaboration the Lambert toolkit is also useful for B2B collaborations. It is very much focused on intellectual property rights (IPR) and includes five sample collaboration agreements (CA) dealing with different categories of A2B collaboration and four dealing with different consortium arrangements. Anyone of these can be used as the starting point for more detailed negotiation if required and it may be that a combination of both the Lambert material and BS11000 provides the right solution for some new collaborations. For further information on Lambert visit


    Whatever approach you decide to take with your collaboration it is important to remember that the collaboration is not an end in itself. Collaboration is a means to satisfying a business plan objective. If that objective changes then your collaboration may need to be reconsidered, reviewed and revitalised. The business objectives are the key determinants of both the nature and conditions of the collaboration but if done properly the right collaboration may expose your business to hitherto unforeseen opportunities.

    Collaborations are like a marriage; it may take time to find the right partner, there is a lot of planning in advance but then when the paperwork is signed you go forward into the future together, sharing goals and aspirations. It is not always easy, there may be mistakes and you need to keep communicating but when it works the sum of the parts is greater than the whole and it is a fulfilling and exciting time. If you would like more advice about collaborations (but not marriage guidance!) then there are plenty of sources of support available.

    The Transport KTN (Transport Knowledge Transfer Network) brings different segments of the transport industry together to enable mutually beneficial sharing of knowledge and technological innovation. In addition it tries to breakdown traditional industry specific thinking and encourage genuine new entrants, often SMEs with fresh approaches, into this key marketplace.

    Through its recent work the Transport KTN has already identified a number of key cross-sector challenges where there are opportunities for sharing innovations and solutions and has already helped to instigate a number of successful collaborations.  It is acting as a catalyst and facilitating innovation across intelligent mobility and energy efficiency across the road, rail and marine sectors.

    Membership of any of the Knowledge Transfer Networks is free but provides you with real benefits and the support to take your business to the next level. By joining the Transport KTN – or any of its key groups below – you can access the latest information and opportunities and be a part of this change.

    Benefits include:

    • Network with professionals with similar interests
    • Find new contacts and grow your business
    • Expand your R&D and products into new markets show us and other people that you’re interested in this topic
    • Be kept up to date with selected funding opportunities when they arise
    • Hear from your peers
    • Get priority booking and discount for events
    • Use the KTN communications – post articles in this group to get them tweeted to the @transportktn twitter stream
    • Receive a monthly newsletter

    For more information or to sign up visit

    European Regional Development Fund Northern Powerhouse
    Partners Department for Business Innovation and Skills Finance Birmingham