A model for cross-sector collaboration: how commercial activity at Ravensbourne benefits academic teams and students.

The Enterprise and Innovation Centre manages the commercial activities of Ravensbourne, including industry events, short courses and live briefs for industry. In this blog Commercial Projects Manager, Ruth Nicholls, discusses what a dedicated innovation department can offer academic teams, particularly in relation to enhancing student experience.

The Enterprise and Innovation Centre (EIC) may be advertised as the ‘for business’ arm of Ravensbourne but, in reality, it is as much dedicated to enhancing student experience as it is providing a service to industry clients. Constant collaboration with academic teams means that opportunities for students to work with clients not only bring commercial benefits to the institution, but are also viewed as integral to delivering an industry-standard curriculum.

It is all too easy for those starting out in the creative industries to get trapped in the ‘no experience, no job – no job, no experience’ cycle. When the student body is as diverse as ours, the majority do not have the personal connections to open doors, and cannot afford to intern for free. This is where the EIC steps in: working with academics to embed real work, for major brands, into the curriculum and offering a wide range of extra-curricular briefs. We are the conduit between student and client, balancing the learning experience for the student with the need for a professional standard of delivery. Clients are encouraged to treat them as they would any other consultant or freelancer but, for many students, processes which we take for granted are totally new and require some initial reinforcement. This could be as simple as learning to ‘reply all’ on emails, or not asking for feedback over the weekend! The project management by the EIC plays a vital role here, providing a buffer of support when students take on their first briefs.

EIC ‘magic’: what a dedicated team can bring to industry partnerships

We are often asked why there is a need for a specific team running this activity, especially given Ravensbourne is known for its close connections with industry across the board, not just in relation to its commercial work. But, in my opinion, there are a few bits of magic the EIC can bring to an industry partnership…

First of all: time. Any account manager in a creative agency will tell you that a lot of time and energy goes into initiating, growing and maintaining a client relationship. This is mirrored in the work of the EIC, which includes everything from honing in on the client’s challenge, to formulating a written brief and putting together the right project team. Course leaders regularly feed back that, without our client management services, they would lack the resources to deliver on live projects, let alone identify and sell to prospective new clients.

Second: the ability to get the right people in the room. The really exciting and innovative work occurs at the intersection of different disciplines and, with the EIC working across all courses, we are in a unique position to be able to bring the right students, academics and external experts together to deliver on a project. On a recent brief we delivered for Mozilla we had 26 students from across 11 different undergraduate courses, including Digital Television Production, Design Products and Fashion Promotion, working in cross-disciplinary teams to innovate mobile video consumption!

Third: getting students to think commercially. Whether students aspire to freelance or graduate into a job, a practical grasp of how the commercial world works is vital. These considerations tend to be pushed to the sidelines in the first few terms of study when students are focussed on theory, research and getting to grips with software. However, as students progress, they should grow to understand the value of their time and talent, and sometimes have the confidence to say no! The staff in the EIC come from business backgrounds and these issues are second nature. Collaborations brokered by us give the students much-needed exposure to considerations such as non-disclosure and IP agreements, as well as a fair value exchange for their work – be this in cash prizes or paid internships.

I’ll finish by outlining the key benefit I see for our clients. Working with students gives industry partners the inspiration to innovate without bringing any preconceived reservations to the table. In business, creativity can be stifled by performance targets, deadlines and budgets: it’s easy to see all the obstacles to an idea before seeing the potential in it! Students are immune to this because they have never faced the reality of actioning their ideas in a multinational corporation. It is this approach that gives working with students the potential not only to deliver a great project outcome, but also to reinvigorate in-house teams and help them see the creative potential in the work they do on a daily basis.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the work of the EIC, check out our recent case studies on the Ravensbourne website: https://www.ravensbourne.ac.uk/for-business/student-briefs/case-studies/

Ruth Nicholls
Ruth is Ravensbournes key client and student hustler, seeking out incredible opportunities with brands and agencies to work with their student talent.