Software incubation and academic consultancy take researchers to new markets
Twenty five years ago, the University founded Isis Innovation Limited. Launched to leverage the ideas and skills coming out of Oxford research, the company has gone from strength to strength, supporting University staff who have business ideas to spin out companies, raise funds and create sustainable organisations. Two initiatives of particular relevance to social scientists are based at Isis Innovation: Oxford University Consulting (OUC) and the Isis Software Incubator (ISI).
OUC, manage consultancy projects for researchers keen to build relationships with a wide range of external organizations, including businesses and public sector bodies. The OUC team provides academics with advice on how to structure these kinds of relationship, contract negotiation, administrative support and professional indemnity insurance. They may also bring new opportunities to social sciences researchers. For example, the last ten years has seen OUC building a strong relationship with the National Audit Office (NAO), the independent government body that scrutinises public spending. The NAO reports on value for money (VFM) and encourages government departments to spend with economy, efficiency and effectiveness. OUC has undertaken full VFM studies for the NAO using staff based in the Oxford Internet Institute and have set up training with experts at the Saïd Business School and the Departments of Economics and Sociology. Over the last decade, OUC has enabled more than 50 Oxford academics to contribute to ensuring that the VFM audits are robustly analytical, evidence-based and evaluative with clear conclusions and recommendations for stimulating change. Researchers often relish the opportunity to carry out this type of consultancy because they see their academic expertise having real world impact.
The Isis Software Incubator helps the next generation of technology start-ups companies take their first steps towards success. Social sciences researchers often use technology to explore theories about social interaction, and these ideas and applications are rich ground for business tech start-ups. Take Pilio, the first company to graduate from ISI. It provides a cost-effective online tool enabling small and medium businesses to monitor and manage their energy usage, potentially saving up to 40% of their energy budget. The online energy measuring tool, called sMeasure, works by combining two sets of data: gas and electricity meter readings provided by the customer, and weather data. This combination can accurately assess a building’s energy efficiency. It requires no additional meters or devices, and inputting meter readings only takes five minutes a week. In 2012, they successfully delivered an energy monitoring and management programme for the Church of England, which was rolled out nationally and widely praised.
Through tailored services and a deep understanding of the needs of both academics and businesses, the Isis Software Incubator and Oxford University Consulting are helping support researchers branch out into new territories.