Mercury: Service Design for Cambridge Enterprise

Imagine turning world leading research into future technologies

Cambridge Enterprise asked Modern Human to improve the experience of commercialising University research through effective service design. Modern Human redesigned their commercialisation services from the perspective of everyone involved.

Cambridge Enterprise helps academics, researchers and students to form and fund spin-out companies, bring new ideas to market, and share University expertise with industry and government. They currently manage close to 1,000 active IP, licensing and consultancy projects and more than 65 equity contracts. They work with more than 1,400 researchers at all stages of the commercialisation process and, in the last year alone, have signed 359 consultancy contracts; had 141 new technologies disclosed; filed 159 new patents and helped secure £6.5 million in translational funding. 13 companies created by Cambridge Enterprise received new or follow-on investment last year.

Cambridge Enterprise was established to help academics, researchers and students through the complex process of commercialising the world leading research in which they are engaged. The process of assessing, patenting and licensing technologies is highly complicated, as is the process of establishing and nurturing spin out companies. . The flow of this process differs from case to case, but is essentially determined by the activities that need to be accomplished in order to patent and license a technology or product, or to establish a spin out company. Cambridge Enterprise asked Modern Human to look at their commercialisation services, not only through the eyes of their academic customers, but also from the perspective of the external parties who license technologies and fund new companies. Modern Human applied a service design lens to Cambridge Enterprise’s existing offering, with the intention of improving existing services and creating new ones. We wanted to create services that would nurture the partnerships between academia and enterprise that Cambridge Enterprise had already established. Our ultimate aim was to effectively utilise the expert commercialisation support and business building that Cambridge Enterprise already offers, in order to catalyse the transformation of expertise and ideas from Cambridge University into high-value applications in the wider world.

The University Library had already conducted 12 months of ethnographic research into how different groups were using the libraries and their unmet needs. We applied our Inspire mode to their existing research and cross-analysed their findings in order to identify models of behaviour, common goals and clusters of needs. Understanding these patterns of behaviour in turn enabled us to identify opportunities for innovation.

Modern Human started with the academic experience. Commercialisation of academic research is a relatively difficult phenomena to observe. It can take a long time and involvement from different parties is often sporadic, however at times it can be highly time sensitive. In order to observe the academic experience of Cambridge Enterprise services, Modern Human conducted design research with people who were in the middle of commercialising their research or who had recently concluded a deal. We unpicked their experience in detail: from initial engagement to the present moment. We examined their feelings, their thoughts and their decision making processes. They were almost unanimously satisfied with the commercialisation outcome they ultimately received, but admitted that their journey towards an outcome was not always straightforward. Modern Human used the insights from this design research to identify strategic opportunities to refine services and develop new ones. Our research exposed 3 distinct mindsets that academics who engage with Cambridge Enterprise inhabit. These mindsets affect their motivations for engaging in commercial activity and their aspirations for their ideas or inventions. In addition to these 3 mindsets, we also identified two factors that inform the mental model and needs of each academic. Unsurprisingly in such a complicated domain, academics who were commercialising their research for the first time needed additional support to understand the process and the choices available to them. Equally, those who come to Cambridge Enterprise with more elements of a commercialisable package in place, tended to have a simpler experience than those who arrive with just an idea. Their commercialisation strategy is likely to have fewer milestones, be easier to understand and likely to happen quicker; those with just an idea may have lots of work to do. We used these insights to establish a matrix of customer needs.

Modern Human then moved on to look at the experience of external parties who are involved in licensing Cambridge University technologies, employing Cambridge University consultants or funding spin out companies. We wanted to understand much more about them: who they were, what jobs they did and in what types of organisations. We wanted to understand their goals, needs, motivations and values. We conducted design research with angel investors, spin out CEOs, investment managers, product managers and technical specialists in a range of businesses from startups to multinational tech or pharmaceutical firms. By observing these people we identified 3 mindsets that those who are licensing or funding might inhabit. We used these archetypes to understand the expectations and values of external parties, and to map relationship dynamics between them, the academic, and Cambridge Enterprise.

In order to improve the academic experience, Modern Human created a detailed service blueprint to understand the interactions and touchpoints between Cambridge Enterprise and their internal customers. The process of commercialising an idea or invention is complicated and may not follow a predefined process, however a series of milestones can be mapped for the majority of cases. This service blueprint, along with the behavioural archetypes we had uncovered, the matrix of customer needs we had analysed and the relationship dynamics we had modelled, gave us a series of ideas for ways to improve or augment Cambridge Enterprise services.

Using a mixture of digital and physical touchpoints, Modern Human created 12 concepts designed to improve the interactions between Cambridge Enterprise and academics. These included a self-service portal and an app for Cambridge University consultants, a pop-up venue for innovation events within the University, a new reception space at the entrance to the Cambridge Enterprise offices, and ways to get time for an informal chat about the commercialisation potential of an academic’s research.

The self-service portal that Modern Human conceptualised would enable academics working with Cambridge Enterprise to access the details of their current and previous cases quickly and easily. The concept is intended to allow academics to track the progress of their current cases, to understand what Cambridge Enterprise is working on, and to see what they should be doing to help. The intention here is to make the commercialisation process much more transparent and understandable to the academic.

Modern Human also created a concept for a handy app which would enable academics to log their consultancy timesheets and expenses whilst on the go. The app would be linked to the self-service portal, meaning data entered on the app would be available on both platforms. The aim of the app is to make consultancy-related admin, like recording time spent on a project, re-claiming expenses, and generating and sending invoices, quick, easy and convenient. The app is aimed at serial consultants and those on longer term or regular engagements. More people are engaged through consulting with Cambridge Enterprise than any other service. Demonstrating to consultants how efficient and easy Cambridge Enterprise is to work with may help convince them to use other services in the future. The Cambridge Enterprise App for Consultants is intended to provide that fast and easy interface.

As part of the project, Modern Human also redesigned the reception area at Cambridge Enterprise to create a welcoming and inviting entrance to their offices. We wanted to create a physical space that invites people to have conversations with Cambridge Enterprise. We created private areas within the reception space for conversations about potential disclosures. The reception area would also help to communicate the purpose, values and benefits of working with Cambridge Enterprise by displaying case studies, information about key values and services, and successful products or technologies that Cambridge Enterprise have supported previously. Our intention was to create a space that people could leave feeling reassured, supported and ready to take the next step in the commercialisation process. This concept directly addresses the need to accommodate academics who like to call into the Cambridge Enterprise offices to have face-to-face conversations with their commercialisation experts.

The self service portal, consultancy app, redesigned reception area and another 9 concepts were presented in a vision for Cambridge Enterprise services for academics.

Examining the relationship between Cambridge Enterprise and external parties led Modern Human to develop 8 further concepts, with the aim of building closer relationships and encouraging working practices that facilitate sharing and customer-centric thinking. Much more process and practice orientated, they demonstrate a clear focus on the activity of Cambridge Enterprise and the outcomes they deliver, rather than the touch points they deliver them through.

Our research revealed that a clear value proposition would help Cambridge Enterprise to communicate its value more effectively to the 3 different external archetypes. The candidate value proposition Modern Human suggested for Cambridge Enterprise is based upon analysis of the 3 archetypes identified during our research. Concepts included a customer dynamics assessment & planning tool, concepts for creating the perfect introduction to Cambridge Enterprise for external parties, organisational effectiveness diagnostics, and ways of engaging wider audiences. Concepts might also address internal working practices.

As intended, our design research with external parties also gave us a new angle on many of the concepts for academics. They will help us to plan interactions between external parties and the self-service portal and how these might be positively impacted by changes to the academic experience.

Our work has led to the creation of 5 task forces who have in turn developed and piloted some of the concepts we have defined. Modern Human continues to work with Cambridge Enterprise.