10 Steps to building an effective multi-partner consortium

This free collection of animated insights introduces approaches to building a successful multi-partner consortium.

By combining the different strengths of our partner universities in medical and related digital technologies, innovation and commercialisation, we provided capacity and capability in medtech that far exceeded that offered by a single institution.

In this content we share our practices and approaches for building and effective consortium, which in our experience, enabled us to scale out activities more effectively.

1. Co-create your initiative from the earliest stage

2. Have a clear focus and remit

3. Bring parties together with a formal agreement

4. Develop an inclusive executive leadership structure

5. Co-recruit key roles

6. Use sector-specialist innovation managers

7. Agree values and ways of working

8. Agree approaches to allocating shared resources

9. Agree an approach to sharing data

10. Consider an independent brand

1. Co-create your initiative from the earliest stage

Build on strategic priorities and decide how partners can contribute complementary distinctive strengths.

In our experience…

At the University of Leeds we have a strong track record in medtech innovation and, over the past 12 years, have leveraged £150M private sector investment into the private sector for technologies we have supported. We wanted to look at how we could use our knowledge and experience to grow the quality and quantity of translational research opportunities emerging from a wider group of university partners in our region.

In 2015, five regional university partners (Universities of Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds, Leeds Beckett and York) secured a HEFCE Catalyst grant to deliver Translate MedTech (a programme to develop capability in medtech innovation in the Leeds City region). This enabled us to build strong working relationships with the Research Innovation Office (RIO) teams, develop a network of engaged academics and have some early technology opportunities in the development pipeline.

These five university partners collaborated on delivering the medtech Science and Innovation Audit for the Leeds City Region in 2017. This led to a number of strategic working groups being set up to develop ideas for programmes and interventions, which kept us engaged and working together.

When the opportunity to apply to Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund arose, we were in a good position to quickly form a consortium so that we could all be involved in the development of the bid from the outset. We invited an additional partner – Sheffield Hallam University – into the consortium because they addressed a gap in user-centre design, which is crucial for successful medtech development, and we knew from past experience that they are really proactive collaborators.

2. Have a clear focus and remit

Understand the gaps for innovation in your sector, your strengths, and your external environment.

In our experience…

The development and commercialisation of medical technologies is challenged by two innovation funding gaps known as ‘valleys of death’.

The first occurs as technologies are developed from early stage research, and proof of commercial concept and reducing technology risk is needed to build the confidence of industry and investors and convince them to invest in developing technologies further.

The second occurs following the design and development of prototype devices and services, which need to be clinically evaluated before they can be further progressed.

We believed our new consortium – Grow MedTech – could apply its strengths to addressing the first funding gap by building collaborative cross-disciplinary teams to build late stage development and market viewpoints into the early stage technology development process.

As lead partner, Leeds has a strong track record of doing exactly this and we wanted to scale this across multiple institutions.

3. Bring parties together with a formal agreement

Give everyone the security of agreement over role and accountability for co-delivery of the programme.

In our experience…

We made it a priority for our contracts team to develop a consortium agreement that set out responsibilities and commitments to delivering the programme, which all partners signed. The time and effort it takes to do this should not be underestimated, but it gave all partners the security of agreement over roles and accountabilities for the co-delivery of a multi-million pound programme.

4. Develop an inclusive executive leadership structure

Build consistent and strong management relationships across all levels of governance.

In our experience…

It was essential that we agreed an inclusive executive leadership structure. Grow MedTech is somewhat unusual in that this leadership structure is driven entirely by Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation (KEC) managers. Each university was represented by a senior Research and Innovation (R&I) KEC or business development manager (depending on partner infrastructure). We agreed there would be no deputies because we wanted to build consistent and strong management relationships across the team. The Executive Group met quarterly and, bearing in mind that medtech is just a portion of what these managers are responsible for, attendance was consistently excellent – which suggests they found value in taking part.

5. Co-recruit key roles

Agree a core role description blueprint to adapt according to partners’ own organisation standards; co-shortlist, and include partners on interview panels.

In our experience…

Effective delivery of the programme hinged on the specialists who would be on the ground, working with the academics to de-risk their technologies. To ensure we all recruited the candidates with the most appropriate skills and experience needed as our Technology Innovation Managers (TIMs), we agreed a core role description blueprint which partners used to develop role profiles that were consistent with their institutional standards. Each university then invited other partners to support the recruitment process by including them in short-listing and on interview panels.

We found recruiting sector-specific posts to be challenging: we required industry experience and were aware that our pay scales may not be equivalent to those in the private sector. We were not willing to compromise and if we didn’t find the right candidate, we advertised again.

Technology Innovation Managers were co-recruited by the consortium to carry out Grow MedTech’s day-to-day innovation and translation activities. There was one employed by each partner, they usually sat in the R&I, commercialisation or business development team of the university (depending on local structure) and they reported to the partner’s Executive Group member.

Critically, although geographically distributed, the TIMs worked together as a single team and meet regularly. It was the TIMs who interfaced directly with the technology development stakeholders.

6. Use sector-specialist innovation managers

Recruit personnel with sector-specific experience and know-how who can share experience of product development and complex regulatory processes.

In our experience…

The role of the Technology Innovation Manager has proved to be key to the delivery of a successful translation programme. The role was created and tested originally through our EPSRC MedTech Innovation and Knowledge Centre.

For us, scaling translational capability meant recruiting and embedding more Technology Innovation Managers into our innovation system.

By co-recruiting a team with complementary skills, each university partner effectively had access to six innovation specialists rather than one. Opportunities and challenges were shared across the TIM team at their regular meetings and cooperatively addressed, and TIMs stepped in to support projects across any of the partner universities depending on the skills required.

The people supporting academics through translational processes are those who make or break the success of the programme. The needs of the sector must be very clear and reflected in role descriptions. For us, experience of working in the medtech industry was key so that TIMs could share their experience of product development and the complex regulatory processes required around medtech with their academics.

They were not easy posts to recruit to as they required specialist knowledge and experience – and in several cases we advertised more than once to secure the right person to the role.

7. Agree values and ways of working

Develop a Team Charter which sets out key principles and accountabilities.

In our experience…

As well as being aware of our commitments and obligations through the consortium agreement, we believe it was important to agree values and ways of working, which everyone in the team would sign up to. We developed a Team Charter which lays out our vision, aims, authority and accountability, ways of working, collaboration and knowledge sharing, resources, support and infrastructure and values. In the latter, our over-arching principle is that team members will operate in the best interests of the programme at all times.

8. Agree approaches to allocating shared resources

Develop a robust, fair and transparent process to ensure strategic investment into the most promising technologies rather than a simple, equal split.

In our experience…

One of the potentially challenging areas in any collaboration is appropriate division and allocation of resources. Grow MedTech secured a substantial technology development fund and we agreed as a consortium, that the funding would be invested strategically in the most promising technology opportunities. This meant that rather than simply dividing the money equally between partners, applying for project funding was a truly competitive process.

To make this work, we developed a robust, fair and transparent process:

The six Technology Innovation Managers jointly agreed allocation of small pots of funding (up to £5K) – for example, Proof Market projects.

Larger projects requiring Proof of Feasibility and Proof of Concept were managed through structured funding call processes with all applications reviewed by an Opportunities Management Panel of independent sector specialist experts. This panel included UKRI, NHS innovation representatives, industry sector representation through Medilink, IP and patent legal expertise and patient involvement representatives.

The panel’s combined input ensured that the process was fair and robust – and in addition, the detailed feedback they provided to both successful and unsuccessful applications helped academics make decisions about how to take their technologies forward.

9. Agree an approach to sharing data

Ensure cross-HEI knowledge sharing, file sharing and record keeping infrastructure is available.

In our experience…

To enable data sharing for monitoring, reporting, business relationship and programme management purposes, we commissioned a bespoke, central project management database which the Chief Information Officers of each partner approved. Use of this database was strictly controlled to a limited number of named individuals, approved by the Executive Group, and each partner had access.

10. Consider an independent brand

Develop commitment to the programme at every level through the use of an independent brand – rather than that of the lead HEI.

In our experience…

Consortium programme branding can often sit within the communication and branding channels of host HEIs. We have found that by creating something independent, which complements and acknowledges all partner HEI branding, partners and the whole community are more committed to achieving collective targets than supporting solely the interests of their host institution.

In addition, TIMs have found it easier to operate under a shared brand which is not their own institution, for example, when communicating disappointing news around funding decisions.

Grow MedTech: a successful multi-partner consortium case study

Grow MedTech – funded through the Research England Connecting Capability Fund 2017-2021 – has been a major UK programme providing specialist support for innovation in medical technologies, involving a consortium of six universities across the Leeds and Sheffield City Regions. Our sector-specialist innovation support has helped to put these regions at the forefront of the UK’s medtech sector.

Acting as partnership brokers, we have proactively connected people from academia, industry and clinical practice to collaborate on developing new medical technologies. Our six skilled and experienced technology innovation managers have been based in our partner universities but have worked collectively as a team, connecting with academics, companies and clinicians from across the regions. We aspire to involve patients at every stage of the journey.

We have provided funding for technologies from initial concepts at Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 2 and 3 through to proof of commercial concept at TRL 5. We have also provided support for projects at TLR 5+. More importantly, academics and companies have accessed sector-specialist expertise and advice to help them progress their technologies, create effective partnerships and leverage additional funding from other sources. We have helped projects bring together different disciplines and technologies – including digital and AI – to enable our partners to access the strongest market opportunities.

Grow MedTech’s collaboration between the Universities of Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds Beckett, Sheffield Hallam and York, led by the University of Leeds, now has a track record in highly successful innovation support and our model and processes can be used as good practice in other sectors and regions.

Case studies on our technology development projects can be found on our bulletin page.