Knowledge transfer turbocharged by postdoc ‘brains for hire’ venture
Entrepreneurial postdocs from Cambridge University have founded one of the most significant knowledge transfer organisations in the history of the UK’s science & technology cluster.
Cambridge Minds is a supercharged brains trust whose members are pledged to help new generations of entrepreneurs forge lives outside of academia.
And with echoes of the start of the original Cambridge Phenomenon, the organisation is prepared to offer that brainpower to existing companies looking to stay ahead of the curve through a novel crowdsourcing model.
Over time the initiative could trigger another world-leading Cambridge consultancy – evoking the spirit of Tim Eiloart who, in 1960, offered “to put the brains of Cambridge University at the disposal of the problems of British industry.”
That was the birth of Cambridge Consultants, now a global technology design innovator and credited as founder of the Phenomenon.
Fifty-six years on, Cambridge Minds arguably fills a void in knowledge transfer that could hardly be better timed with startups and established businesses in the cluster seeking differentiating factors at the bleeding edge of industry.
Cambridge Minds is an initiative of the Entrepreneurial Postdocs Of Cambridge Society (EPOC), a university-based group of postdoctoral researchers. It allows companies to not only leverage the expertise of existing postdocs but also to tap into the organisation’s 4,000-plus research crowdsource community worldwide.
President Neil Rzechorzek told Business Weekly: “We aim to support Cambridge postdocs looking to leave academia while helping external organisations to tap the expertise of these highly trained individuals.
“In its simplest form, Cambridge Minds is indeed a consultancy initiative, although our model is a little unusual. The overarching purpose is to provide fast turnaround solutions to organisations with specific technical challenges.
“Once a project is defined, we crowdsource solutions from our community. Initially, we approach our dedicated list of registered postdocs, but if this does not yield results we can then reach out to the entire Cambridge cohort of more than 4,000 researchers. To our knowledge, no other consultancy organisation can do this!
“Cambridge Minds is intended to be flexible. While the original purpose was to realise postdoc consultancy opportunities, some organisations have also expressed an interest in providing internships to postdocs and we are exploring ways to facilitate these.”
EPOC's consultancy team lead, Dr Tom Simmons, and IT guru, Dr Tom Meany – who runs the Cambridge Minds website and database – are excited at the potential for the initiative.
Neil Rzechorzek adds: “In the current climate postdocs are keen to explore alternative career options and use their expertise outside an academic environment. It hasn't taken long to develop our own more than 500-strong mailing list of entrepreneurially minded individuals, and these are our first port of call for projects.
“EPOC doesn't presently charge a fee for the matchmaking – we do it because we want to make a positive impact, both for postdocs and for external organisations.
“In the future, this may well spin out into something as a fee for service simply to cover time commitment costs (we're all doing this in our spare time) but for now, we're keen to build up a large portfolio of completed projects to demonstrate utility.”
In this ‘have brains, will travel’ scenario client location is not an issue. Neil says: “The university is experienced in arranging consultancy contracts with clients around the world,and the Cambridge Minds platform utilises this.
“Also, there is no restriction on subject matter. While the original plan was to encourage technical queries (e.g. engineering, computing, physical and life sciences), we're only too well aware that difficult challenges often require completely novel approaches.
“Our own mailing list covers most disciplines but we can further approach every postdoc in Cambridge if something unusual comes up. The beauty of crowdsourcing is that the best solution may not always come from the most obvious source – we're particularly interested to see how Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences researchers can contribute to some of the projects.”
To find out more about the initiative, email info [at] epoc-soc.org or visit www.cambridgeminds.org