'Tinder for Academics'...?

Rich Young
CEO/Founder | Smarter Knowledge Exchange Ltd
8th March 2020
Member roleChamber member

Tinder, Match, Grindr - all dating (or hook-up) apps and names which have passed into common parlance for a generation of 20- and 30-somethings. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about at this point, I just caution you to be careful in your ‘research’, especially if you have a partner at home already.)

Of course, such apps are simply one example of the way internet and smartphones are being used to connect strangers to meet a market need. Taxi drivers, dogwalkers, cleaners and babysitters are all providers whose ability to connect with customers has been transformed in a similar way.

The generation for whom such tools are part of everyday life includes a large number of recent Ph.D students and professional academics now wanting and being expected to connect with others beyond their libraries and laboratories. Government and public expectations of ‘academic impact’ are on the rise with universities now scored and rewarded for making a difference ‘in the real world’. Helpfully, many of the researchers now coming through the ranks are showing the same appetite for ‘purpose’ in their careers as peers beyond academia: the millennial and Gen Z zeitgeist is visible in higher education too.

For businesses, this convergence of academics’ appetite, government expectations and ubiquitous technology should present a massive opportunity. For some companies, innovation will mean the search for radical new departures, groundbreaking science converted into products or services that disrupt markets and create and capture new value. For other firms, the challenge will be to iterate and refine, eeking out the small percentages that make the difference between profit and loss.

Across the UK’s 163 universities there is a wealth of talent with the potential and appetite to help companies address all these challenges. Yet, in the business sector, we tap only a small percentage. Yes, figures for university spin-outs and the licensing of IP have been rising, but the deals being done are concentrated in a small handful of universities, with a disproportionate benefit to those – in Higher Education and business – within the ‘golden triangle’ of London, Oxford and Cambridge.

Theses have been written on the challenges to cross-sectoral partnering of this sort. Recurring themes in the literature include the linguistic differences between what can feel like different tribes and the hard commercial bargains driven by universities over what their academics can do with inventions and insights derived with university funds. (The United States, for example, has traditionally allowed its academics to earn greater personal rewards from business tie-ups.)

But the deeply frustrating truth is that there is yet to be a ‘Tinder for Academics’ – a platform or app which businesses can use to connect, and with the same potential for, er, rapid gratification of desire. There has been the odd initiative, including with government backing, but nothing yet that feels as though it has cracked the problem of how to do this. Why?

(For further thoughts, watch this space. ‘Tinder for Academics’ Pt2 coming soon.)

‘Smarter’ is an online matchmaking platform being piloted this Summer to connect academics with businesses, policymakers and charities, and launched by Smarter Knowledge Exchange Ltd, a start-up supported by Oxford University Innovation. https://www.smarterke.com This blog was written by Rich Young, CEO/Founder, ex-Civil Servant with experience of transforming Knowledge Exchange in government. rich@smarterke.com

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