Five minutes with Professor Bob Cryan CBE
Bob Cryan is not only a man of letters but a man of action.
We caught up with Bob and heard the transformative step that the University of Huddersfield has taken to encourage entrepreneurship in its students. Since he became vice-chancellor in 2007, activity has been focused around three key objectives: that the university should be Inspiring, Innovative and International in all that it does.
“At the heart of a vibrant economy are people that are appropriately skilled to create ideas in the first place”
Young people are not given the right exposure, the curriculum is not business focused enough… What we’re trying to do is make it vibrant by producing highly qualified, highly skilled individuals. Quite often great ideas die at an early stage because they can’t get funding. We create entrepreneurial spaces in which people can mix and spark off each other, creating great networking opportunities. There is now a movement in many universities to create similar ‘entrepreneur spaces’ like ours at the University of Huddersfield.
“This generation is much more entrepreneurial”
There’s a lot more people thinking about creating their own businesses, and a lot more opportunities. It’s all about exposure. There are a lot of stories on social media regarding start-ups, it starts to seed a sense of what if, what if I start it myself from nothing. General exposure helps, but its also having an infrastructure to support it… It’s about skilled development and convincing young people that they can create their own businesses.
“Having someone from your region and background saying ‘you can do this’ is more important than you think”
For many start-ups the problem is cash-flow: they can’t afford premises or professional support. To tackle this, the university has created its own facility: The Duke of York Young Entrepreneur Centre. It offers free support, and free premises for students at the start-up stage, creating a pipeline for young firms to be established, where we try to provide avenues for future growth. As part of this, we appointed the UK’s first Entrepreneur in Residence. He is a local self-made multimillionaire, who is passionate about start-ups and the students can look to him as a role model.
“We love the idea of people leaving university and building their own business”
There is, right now, a real sense of excitement and enthusiasm to encourage people to go and create their own company. I am delighted that there has been a big push for start-ups. At the University of Huddersfield, we are trying to do that ourselves. That’s why we have our own innovation centre, and are changing the way we do our curriculum. As an institution we have routes to enable people to turn their ideas into viable, long term business.
“There is still much to be done to strengthen the link between university and industry”
We want to try and transfer knowledge from the university into industry. By getting universities working a lot closer with industry, we are trying to transform the north and make the Northern Powerhouse a reality.
“Collaboration between public and private sector needs to be encouraged”
For example, we [the University of Huddersfield] are on the governing body of over 30 local schools and colleges and we engage with over 1000 SMEs. This allows us to contribute to the transformation of businesses and schools, and brings present and future CEO’s together. In doing so, it helps make both sectors more vibrant.
“The questions I always ask my colleagues: what are you doing that’s inspirational, innovative and international?”
Our university is built around these three key principles. They shape everything we do; they are what motivate and focus our ambitions.
“Organisational change takes time to develop”
We’re trying to create a transformation in people’s point of view, in particular create passion in students. When you have a passion for your subject, that passion becomes infectious and when we hire new staff, that is what we are looking for. I really do enjoy this, and I believe in it. It’s that passion and drive, the belief, which is why we end up being successful.
“We’re not interested in short-term customers, but long-term relationships”
The historic approach to business by a UK University is to seek short term funding. When we do business, we take a different philosophy and focuss on win-win long term partnerships.. The companies we work with range from Global 500 to small local businesses. Unusually for a UK University, we have begun to invest directly in small businesses to help them grow and develop.
“Collaborations means you can meet difficulties and turn them into opportunities”
Our region is facing severe cuts and our response is to collaborate and help each other by trying to get people engaged in their community and region, and see how they can make a difference.
“Business and universities are starting to trust each other leading to mutual benefit”
Issues such as intellectual property rights requires mutual trust between the collaborating parties and we are seeing the University-Business relationship getting stronger and we are increasingly seeing venture capitalists, spotting the financial opportunity coming from universities. We are seeing really exciting opportunities, but I think there is still a lot which can be harnessed… I want to see more university research commercialised.