University consultancy firm reaches milestone

Rob Johnson and Dan King

A Midlands consulting firm which helps Britain’s top universities to deliver impact from their research work has reached a significant milestone.

Research Consulting, which is based at the University of Nottingham Innovation Park (UNIP), has now advised more than 150 projects. The company provides specialist advice which helps universities manage research and innovation activities typically funded by government, industry and charities.

The firm was founded by former KPMG consultant Rob Johnson, who went on to become head of research operations at the University of Nottingham before launching Research Consulting.

It now has a team of nine people with proven expertise in managing research, knowledge exchange, industry partnerships, economic development, and project evaluation and training.

Academic research projects carried out by universities seek to solve real-world problems in fields such as food, health, manufacturing and energy. Some have led to health breakthroughs, others have improved technologies and turned into products delivered at industrial scale or developed by spin-out companies.

To attract the funding required to carry out the projects, universities and their research teams have to show the quality of their expertise, the value of their work and the impact it achieves.

Universities frequently have portfolios of research projects running with combined values of hundreds of millions of pounds. Research Consulting offers strategic advice around issues that affect the whole portfolio, which can range from finances and regulatory compliance to industry partnerships and patents protecting project outcomes.

Dr Dan King, a director of the company, explained: “Research carried out by UK universities has been responsible for scientific breakthroughs, life-changing innovations and helping the world around us to overcome some of the daily challenges it faces. The work universities are currently putting into the search for Covid vaccines is the perfect illustration of just how important this research can be.

“The UK has some of the best research-intensive universities in the world. But that brings with it significant competition for funding and the key to securing support is making sure research activities set consistently high standards and achieve excellent outcomes.

“We’re proud to work with many leading universities and the difference we make is in using our experience of the research landscape and our consultancy skills to help universities manage their projects and the impacts they deliver.”

Like most businesses, this year has brought challenge for Research Consulting. But Dr King says being based at the University of Nottingham Innovation Park has helped the company weather the economic storm.

“Being based at UNIP is effectively part of our brand in terms of what we are and the organisations we work with,” said Dr King. “Being in an innovation environment where research is routinely carried out has also helped us to attract business and talent to help us grow.

“But it has also made a difference during Covid. Because we’re based in managed office space it looked like we might not be able to secure government support but James Chaffer (UNIP’s operations director) intervened and we received some very helpful assistance as a result.”

Research Consulting is one of more than 60 businesses based at UNIP, which has become one of the biggest concentrations of research commercialisation activity in the Midlands since it was established just over a decade ago.

Chaffer added: “Research Consulting’s presence here demonstrates the wider value of an innovation-focused environment. What happens at UNIP is very much the landscape that they operate on and it’s no surprise to see them become such a specialist success.

“UNIP also plays a key part in the University of Nottingham’s wider mission to add value to the local and regional economy. That goes beyond hosting businesses to helping them wherever we can, and we view providing support and assistance during Covid as vital part of our role.”