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Working with scientists – Andy Cureton of BBSRC explains how

Published: 20 February, 2018

Andy CuretonAhead of our Pollinator event “Finding the Funding”, we asked speaker Andy Cureton, Head of Business Engagement of BBSRC, to explain how the organisation – which is a major strategic funder of the biosciences – supports business.

Q. Has the way that the BBSRC works with business changed over the last three years? Can you give some examples of its approach and how the relationship has developed?

BBSRC has a long track record of working with businesses within the agriculture sector and more importantly making sure business are able to work with the universities and the research institutes that we invest research funding in.

Engagement between academic researchers and business, not only ensures that research, from its earliest stage is relevant to business’s needs, but also helps to accelerate the translation of the outcomes of research projects into new products, processes or practices that benefit business.

Over the last few years we have been looking at different approaches to enable engagement. We have supported the establishment of networks to bring together researchers and businesses to better understand and address industry relevant research challenges, for example ARCH-UK for the aquaculture sector.

We have also actively involved Businesses in the scoping of research projects through ‘Sandpits’ ensuring much closer alignment between business need and research.

Q. Science is about asking big questions, innovation is about solving problems in new ways – could it be argued that there is potentially a important role for scientists to be used more as experts within the innovation process rather than trying to ‘translate blue sky research into business’?

Scientists have a role to play throughout the innovation process and researchers we fund have a responsibility to enable benefit to arise from the research they carry out. This can happen in a variety of ways, for some this may be translating blue skies research into business in other cases it may be ensuring policy makers are aware of research outcomes that can inform policy development. 

There is also a really important role that scientists can play in knowledge exchange, informing the development of innovations based on the broad base of expertise they have gained from their research. Knowledge Transfer Partnerships enable academics and businesses to work together in this way and have been successful in the agriculture sector.

Q. Many innovative farmers would like to work more closely with researchers – does the BBSRC support this and do you have any success stories to share?

BBSRC is looking at what its role should be in enabling researchers and farmers to work together. As a Research Council we support research at its earliest stages but alongside that we do have a responsibility to ensure that research we support benefits society. 

As a part of this we have been working with Innovative Farmers and looking at their Field Lab model as a way of supporting greater engagement between the academic researchers we support and farmers. Not only does this enable farmers to access academic research expertise but it also informs further research opportunities.

For example, an Innovative Farmers project looking at helping hens get more protein from eating insects while they range has informed a research project between Bristol University and Stonegate which has received £500,000 funding from BBSRC.

Q. Much of science research is not accessible to non-academics as it locked behind the paywall of publications – does the BBSRC recognise this as a problem? Is it trying to make research more accessible?

BBSRC, along with other Research Councils, is fully committed to making the outputs from its funded research publicly available. All researchers that we fund have to comply with an open access policy meaning that there must be unrestricted, on-line access to peer-reviewed and published research papers. Beyond this policy we work with other partners such as AHDB who we have worked with to disseminate research outcomes from horticulture research projects. Information on all grants funded by the Research Councils and Innovate UK alongside the outcomes of the research are available on Gateway to Research (http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk).

SMART-AKIS workshop: Finding the Funding – The Research and Business Guide to Smart Agri-Tech Finance
King’s Lynn Innovation Centre, Innovation Drive, King’s Lynn, PE30 5BY, 22 March, 2018