The combination of innovative thinking and commerce in education is being driven by vigorous creative thinking, bringing the best academic and business minds together.
At Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, the Speech and Hearing Sciences Centre has already produced two groundbreaking and commercially successful products. This, says Kim Gilchrist, Head of Research and Knowledge Exchange Development, is due to the strong collaborative processes that are allowing researchers, students, and new graduates to develop as entrepreneurs.
“We provide skills, support and mentoring to help our researchers and students turn their ideas into commercial success,” she says. “This means supporting innovation and enterprise and offering a range of pathways to connect our staff, students, and alumni to the community through enterprise start-up activities, business support, and social innovation. A huge motivation for us is being a part of their journey from the point of idea inception through to company formation.”
One of the Speech and Hearing Sciences Centre’s great successes is Articulate Instruments, a spin-out company that invents, designs, and supports the development of instrumental technologies that help to improve diagnosis and treat speech disorders in children and adults.
Professor Alan Wrench of SHS was approached and given the challenge of not only making the work of the centre more commercially viable, but also helping to raise its profile internationally. Professor Wrench and QMU collaborated closely to undertake the basic research that underpins the company, and QMU helped smooth his transition from university employee to independent entrepreneur. Ongoing strategic collaboration and practical support allows him to exploit his independence and concentrate on his specialist area from a fully commercial perspective.
The company is, however, still based physically at QMU, enabling it to work very closely with QMU’s speech researchers and therapists to develop new technologies which measure speech articulation, to the benefit of all concerned. Through the advanced instrumentation developed by Articulate Instruments, such as Ultrasound and Electropalatography (EPG), QMU therapists are diagnosing and improving the communication of people with enduring speech problems. It is particularly helpful to those who have made little or no progress by using traditional speech therapy methods.
The commercial success has come with the sale of Ultrasound, EPG, and other specialist speech technologies and methodologies to universities, hospitals, and companies in the UK and globally to more than 200 international customers.
Technology developed through another spin out from the Speech and Hearing Sciences is helping those who rely on their voices for work.
Dr Felix Schaeffler has led the specialist team behind “fitvoice”, a smartphoneassisted voice care service.
When we think of people suffering from vocal problems, professional singers spring to mind, but figures show that time off work due to voice stress and strain costs the UK economy around £200 million each year.
The range of people who are dependent on their voice for everyday work ranges from teachers and lecturers to call centre workers. If voice problems can be identified before they require medical treatment, and tailor-made advice on how to protect the voice is on hand, it could prevent that time off.
That’s what the fitvoice smartphone app does. It allows regular voice monitoring by transmitting information to a database accessible by voice coaches and therapists. They monitor the vocal health of each client, supported by automatic acoustic analysis. Based on the analysis, the experts then provide regular personal feedback and advice on how to protect their voice or at what point to seek specialist medical care.
As Kim Gilchrist explains, this combination of innovation and commercial thinking has been nurtured by the first on-campus Business gateway at any Scottish university.
“Our spin-off companies with roots at QMU are generating rewards for the region as well as for the university, “ she adds. “Without spin-off company creation, the potential economic and social benefits of many university research discoveries would never reach the public.