Business engagement at the PraxisAuril Digital Celebration in December

Helen Toft reviews last December’s PraxisAuril Digital Celebration – in particular, the Business Engagement panel she took part in, explaining about how her team at the University of Birmingham handled the year.

The past 12 months (years…? decades…?) have changed life for everyone here in the UK. Not only with the horrendous loss of life and changing circumstances for many people, but with the pandemic’s tornado impact on how we can live our lives, perform our jobs and think about our future.  

2020 brought us many questions that we now need to answer, both personal and professional, and the PraxisAuril Digital Celebration in December, gave a great forum for Knowledge Exchange professionals from across the UK the chance to reflect on their work and professional experiences and to share best practice (and lots more in the evening networking sessions!).  

I was fortunate enough to present at one of the panel sessions during the week, where I focused on how the Business Engagement team at the University of Birmingham has worked with key intermediaries throughout 2020 to ensure we reach and support business through these unprecedented times. Hearing the other panellists present, alongside the very keen questions and discussions from participants was fabulous, and I look forward to hearing how plans and outcomes have progressed this year.  

Hearing the other panellists present, alongside the very keen questions and discussions from participants was fabulous, and I look forward to hearing how plans and outcomes have progressed this year.  

Our team at the University of Birmingham focuses on research collaboration, working closely with other teams across IP and spin-outs, SME and funding support and with our Business School. We also engage very closely with our Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor who leads on Regional Engagement and heads up CityREDI and WMREDI – research centres with a strong focus on providing economic analysis to underpin sector and place decision making for inclusive and sustainable growth.  

Landscape image of Birmingham's Aston Webb building

Within our team, we also manage and have strong relationships with many intermediaries, including the CBI and Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. Alongside our re-focus at the start of the pandemic on clinical and medical research support, in part due to our co-location with University Hospitals Birmingham, we also had an immediate response to getting appropriate expertise out to business. We worked with the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce on appropriate webinars, podcasts and blogs and with CBI working groups on mental health. The WMREDI weekly monitor also fed extensively (and continues to do so) into the regional recovery planning.  

As well as the initial quick response, we also worked with these key business associations to look towards the longer term. With the Chambers, we launched the annual Birmingham Economic Review in October 2020 to ensure we and we also participated in the annual CBI conference – the first time that this was a wholly digital event.  

What we also learnt to focus on more for 2021 is to ensure our content for business remains fresh and relevant. We need to work more across the whole University to get the most out of the relationship, break down silos and collaborate more internally.  

As with the Birmingham Economic Review, we ensured we provided full support to get effective communications out to business and other stakeholders, but for the CBI, we also launched a full internal campaign, to engage professional services, academics and students across the University and provide a key touch point for them to develop a greater understanding of key business themes moving into 2021 and how we work with business as a University. We had over 200 UoB delegates: attend the event, where we took out our key messages around how the University of Birmingham can extend innovation capacity and capabilities across products, services and business strategies 

The University of Birmingham logo

We generated awareness across innovation hubs, spin outs, our alumni base, partners and generated new business contacts too.  What we learnt, during this time more than any, is the need to go to the business audience where they are and where they are looking for information. Provide an understanding of businesses’ both short and long term needs and we effectively used the power of the institution to convene and bring stakeholders together.  

What we also learnt to focus on more for 2021 is to ensure our content for business remains fresh and relevant. We need to work more across the whole University to get the most out of the relationship, break down silos and collaborate more internally.  

Working with these expert intermediaries, with access to so much knowledge about business trends and concerns, it is even more important, with the lack of in person networking, to maintain and keep these relationships, as they are fundamental in supporting internal as well as external objectives for our programme.  

Here’s to 2021 and (hopefully!) a better year.


Please do get in touch if you have any questions or feedback on this blog. I would love to hear from you h.m.toft@bham.ac.uk

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