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Researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire have worked with Swellaway Limited to develop a prototype wearable rehabilitation device which aims to get athletes back in shape faster.

The device, now called the Promo EV1, provides controlled cooling, heating and compression without the need for ice or gel packs and can be used at home or on the go. It is now used at an elite level in rugby, football and golf. Here we share tips on how to run a successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP).

Recruit a good KTP associate

The number one tip from our KTP advisor is to recruit a very good KTP associate, because this person is the linchpin of the coordination and management of the project.

Under the KTP funding model, around six months are allotted for recruitment, so our advisor emphasized the importance of getting it right. Don’t rush, but recruit someone who will be really strong for the project. One of the reasons KTPs allow six months for this is that you can potentially go through multiple rounds of recruiting if you’re unhappy with the first batch of candidates.

It’s logical, but we hadn’t thought about recruitment at this level of seriousness.

We had a strong response to our advert in terms of numbers and were therefore able to shortlist the best candidates and invite them for face-to-face interviews. During the interview, it was clear that one candidate stood out head and shoulders above the rest, which was fantastic. We were in a privileged position to be able to take the advice of our KTP advisor and choose someone who was going to be ideal for this project.

It is a very difficult job to be a KTP associate because you have to deal with the demands of the company and those of the academic partners, while possibly doing a doctorate – as in our case. Our project was even more difficult because it was an unusual KTP with two academic partners.

I don’t think any of us fully realized the complexity and magnitude of what our associate Olivia Greenhalgh had to do, but she did a phenomenal job. Olivia’s ability was recognized at the 2021 KTP Awards when she received one of the prestigious Future Leaders Awards.

Build on strong existing relationships

We had a long-standing working relationship between us as academic partners and the company. We had worked together through innovation checks and consultancy work when the founder presented us with the prototype of the device. We therefore entered the KTP with a good knowledge of each of the partners and well-established lines of communication. The two different universities didn’t really create an obstacle to collaborating with the company or organizing the work packages.

The key to any successful KTP is making sure you have a good working relationship from the start, even before you apply. If you have this, the partnership is much more likely to succeed than if you bring together two or three different potential partners who aren’t used to working together.

KTP timelines are quite fast, so it’s hard to establish that rapport and get going. For us, having already established that made a big difference.

Good communication

It may seem obvious but a lot of our work had to be done in confinement so it was a challenge. We had regular meetings online and in person when we could.

During the pandemic, we tried to have face-to-face meetings when restrictions permitted. It was important because it brought everyone together and allowed some of the “chatting before and after the game” that you don’t normally get when doing an online meeting, which really helped to build and maintain a good working relationship. One of the big successes was the fact that we were able to maintain many in-person meetings even though we were geographically disparate. This is something worth keeping for future KTPs, even in an era where online meetings are becoming the norm.

Think about what comes next

The end of a KTP could be the start of something else, whether it’s additional related research or a new partnership with the company. The research we conducted with Swellaway had a direct impact on the function, design and ultimately the success of the product. Since the end of the KTP, the Promo EV1 was launched on the market and sales are strong. Such was the success of the project that Swellaway offered another KTP to further develop the device, which is now slated for next year. It will be a three-party bid, but this time with two partners rather than just one. It may be difficult, but we are confident that with our history of working together, we can make it happen.

James Selfe is a professor of physiotherapy at Manchester Met and Jim Richards is Professor of Biomechanics at the University of Central Lancashire.

He led a project that was shortlisted for Knowledge Exchange/Transfer Initiative of the Year to Times Higher Education Awards 2022. A complete list of shortlisted candidates can be found here.

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