Education & Family

How universities and students can benefit from smart inventions

In an age of plunging government grants, universities need to get smarter at coming up with good commercial ideas and getting them to market.

Image caption Graduate Jeremy Innes-Hopkins' invention is to be marketed by a US company

One way of doing that is to exploit their own talent pools of students in a way that benefits them and their students.

The solution for Central Saint Martins, a leading art and design college in London, is an Anglo-American partnership aimed at bringing some Silicon Valley savvy into the classroom.

"I would argue that it's a confidence thing," said Kevin Farnham, CEO of Method, a San Francisco based design and innovation consultancy. "There is a general lack of fear in Silicon Valley about bringing things to market and doing it quickly. The UK is a real hotbed of talent but there is a fear of failure."

Method has worked with some of the biggest companies around such as Google, Samsung and Microsoft to design and market new products.

It is working with Central Saint Martins to create a joint venture, called Method Design Lab, aimed at taking the best commercial ideas generated by students and guiding them through the maze of manufacture and marketing.

'Playful' sun cream

A simple idea by Jeremy Innes-Hopkins, who graduated last year from the college, is a good example.

Image caption Making sure children wear sun protection is not always easy for parents

Jeremy was on holiday, sitting on a beach, when he observed how difficult it can be for parents to pin their children down long enough to apply sun cream.

"The idea was to get kids to apply sun cream themselves and to make it more of a fun and playful thing, rather than a laborious task," said Jeremy.

"So I came up with some packaging that looks like three big marker pens with coloured sun cream in them. They allow children to colour themselves in with sun cream and the colour lets parents and children see which areas they've done. Once rubbed in the colour disappears."

This is one of the first projects that Method Design Lab will work on to bring to market, and talks will start soon with manufacturers and retailers.

'Fearlessness'

The BBC took Jeremy out onto the streets of London to see what mothers made of the sun cream pens.

Image caption Jeremy's idea was popular with the public

"It's a fantastic idea," said one mum, "I'd definitely use it."

"My children are aged seven and 10," another mum said, "and my son would love them. I'm sure he'd enjoy colouring himself in and have fun while doing it."

Central Saint Martins sees the new venture as a way of improving their links with businesses in order for the college and students to benefit.

"It could make a big difference especially given the reduction in funding that we're experiencing from the government," said Nicholas Rhodes, the MA Industrial Design course director.

"Designers aren't afraid of the future - they live in the future and imagine what it could be like. UK businesses need to pick up more of this fearlessness, especially in the current economic climate."

Kevin Farnham, CEO of Method, agrees: "There isn't a better time to innovate than a time like now. We've seen business spending picking up dramatically in the last few months. You can't stop because of tough times."

You can hear the full report from Wednesday 9 March on the PM programme via the BBC iPlayer.

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