Kent Innovation i-Teams: linking innovative students to industry

A student receiving his award next to Tudor Price

Kent Innovation i-Teams links the most innovative and creative students to industry, facilitating solutions to real world business challenges. Following a very successful Kent programme in 2020, we hosted the programme virtually in early 2021.

i-Teams originated at MIT and was brought over to the UK by the University of Cambridge in 2006. Several other UK Universities have since adopted the model and implemented their own programmes. In 2021, we enlisted the help of The Research Network; IBM; and the Young Lives Foundation who are commissioned by Medway Council, to deliver the programme over Zoom.

Tudor Price, Deputy Chief Executive at the Chamber and our Programme Mentor got the students to think strategically about the impact of their solutions, using tools from their IBM Enterprise Design Thinking training.  Each team had a business advisor to support them during the programme, and used the online innovation platform SimplyDo for their collaborative work.

Over eight weekly sessions, students honed their problem solving, team working, innovation and presentation skills in preparation for the Grand Final, where each team presented their solutions to their company over Zoom. Despite the limitations of video conferencing, the creativity and teamwork that students put into the solutions and presentations shone through. Awards were granted for the excellent team leader, excellent presentational skills and for exemplary team player.

Team IBM Challenge:

‘How can we address the problem of Social Isolation?’

The group set out how they had approached the challenge, the research they had undertaken, and the conclusions they had reached.  The solution was to produce a website with the aim of connecting people.  The website would have a ‘retro’ look which would appeal to older generations but which is very popular now with younger people.  A ‘Mood Tracker’ to support mental wellbeing would also be part of the website, as well as opportunities to connect with others with similar interests.  This was discussed as a free service but the team proposed opportunities to have marketable ‘levels’ making it more attractive for business partners and flexibility.

Jon McNamara

Jon McNamara, IBM Master Inventor & UK Universities Programme Lead said:  ‘Triumph! What a team – you have taken a concept and turned it into a tangible thing. The standouts are the free service and then levels which makes it more attractive for business partners and flexibility.  We’ve been presented with a website that grabbed lots of demographics by having retro cool styling. What could be a cold technology has been made familiar – very powerful and huge numbers of people can benefit. The inbuilt feedback is good – and is often forgotten – so bringing that in is good as is the ability to change and develop, fantastic you have realised that. Congratulations and well done to the Team!

Team YLF Challenge:          

‘How can we reach a wide and diverse group of children/young people to hear their views, thoughts and experiences of being in care and improving the system?’

As a result of their research the YLF team produced a statement of focus for their work: “Young people in care and care leavers should have an accessible and trustworthy means of communicating their experiences and suggestions on the system to create more individualised care and actively encourage engagement.”

The outcome was the recommendation of three solutions: An Application (online method connecting YLF and young people); Newsletter (suggestions to enhance the current newsletter); and Diversity and Inclusion (enhancing social and cultural connections within YLF).

Stephen GrayThe CEO of YLF, Stephen Gray said: “It was a real privilege for Young Lives Foundation to be engaged with the i-Teams Programme and to be able to share a strategic and operational challenge.  The standard of the students blew us away, as they very quickly grasped and understood the complex challenge and in just 8 weeks planned and presented solutions, not just one but three!  The solutions were well thought out, achievable and measurable and will allow YLF the opportunity to further develop, test and implement in the coming months. The students were engaged, professional, sensitive and empathic and it was a really positive experience for staff and young people to engage with.  We are looking forward to sharing progress… thank you to all involved!”

Team The Research Network Challenge:

‘How can we increase productive collaboration between the University of Kent academics and between the University and local industry?’

Following their research, the focus statement of the team was ‘to come up with innovative ideas to enable effective collaboration between academia and industry’ and ‘consider how ideas may be incorporated within the TRN app, suggest improvements on the current app’.

The team’s solutions for effective collaboration were the introduction of a virtual fair via a platform such as Discord; the introduction of an Academic Society; and a skill share model. The team also presented recommendations for improving the current TRN App including profile creation, search function, chat features and a range of other options.  Changes to the current App layout were also suggested.

Andy McElroy
Photo credit: Matt Cook Photography

Andy McElroy, Director of TRN said:  ‘I am blown away – the recommendations presented are much more than expected. The programme has been a collaboration in itself between TRN and the i-Teams team, and they have demonstrated the benefit!  There is such a breadth of options, lots of ideas, so much to take on and much appreciated. The analysis was fantastic and we have been presented with dynamic ways to bring people together which are hugely beneficial. Using funding as a motivator and bringing in ways to connect people for funding is excellent!’

Tudor Price
Photo credit: Matt Cook Photography

Tudor Price, Deputy Chief Executive, Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce says: “Working with a multi disciplinary team of students on live business issues is so incredibly rewarding for both the Student and the Business. This year, despite the move to online delivery, the programme has been a huge success for all those involved. The solutions presented by the Teams were amazing and offer practical and achievable options for the Businesses to take forward. In fact one of the businesses has already confirmed they will be taking their solution forward to develop commercially which is categorical proof that this programme has value. As a Chamber, the benefits of being involved in this programme have been many fold and it is so rewarding to work with such talented and enthusiastic group of young people. It’s good to know the future will be safe in their hands and we look forward to continuing our relationship with the University of Kent for many years to come.”

Awards  

Every participant was awarded with a certificate, and additional recognition was given to exemplary performance as a team player, leadership skills and presentations skills.

Closing remarks from Carole Barron

The grand final was closed by the Director of Innovation and Enterprise Carole Barron. Carole was overwhelmed by the talent and dedication of the participants saying:

“Transferring the University’s knowledge and expertise is a priority for the University, and student knowledge exchange is a growing part of our agenda. We constantly strive to bring new ways of engaging students with businesses and i-Teams is a great example of this. I am always delighted to be able to celebrate the ideas, energy and inspiration our students bring to the programme. They have a way of looking at an opportunity from all angles, and by introducing them to real-life challenges it encourages them to think differently.”

i-Teams Student speaking positively about the programmePhoto credit: Matt Cook Photography

Student Amitesh Das and a positive quote about the i-Teams programme
Photo credit: Matt Cook PhotographyTo find out more about current opportunities to work with our talented students, including next years’ i-Teams, visit our student talent page or get in touch with our business and innovation gateway team.
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