The B-School as a Hub for Businesses

Creating a regionwide event to strengthen connections across academia, industry, and government.

LIKE ADMINISTRATORS at many business schools, those at Kent Business School (KBS) at the University of Kent in the U.K. wanted to find ways to strengthen the school's connections with professionals throughout the region and keep its faculty informed of industry trends. KBS faculty had long cultivated these connections through joint partnerships to produce applied research, yearlong student internships, and student consultancy projects that take place within the companies themselves. But the school wanted to do more to form and maintain the relationships that make these programs possible.

To achieve that goal, KBS created the Kent Business Summit. Each year, the summit provides opportunities for collaboration among local leaders, says David Williamson, director of external services at KBS. The summit has been held for the last two years—this year, the event attracted nearly 400 attendees from across southeast England, including business leaders, government officials, academics, editors, and representatives of professional organizations.

Designing such an event was the idea of Floortje Hoette, the school’s advancement and enterprise officer, who is responsible for maintaining the school’s network of external partners. Her vision was to create a central business event for the region, says Williamson. To attract diverse attendees, the summit is organized according to the “triple helix model of innovation,” which fosters interaction and collaboration among academia, government, and industry.

The summit is funded by sponsors, and KBS coordinates its agenda with the help of its local partners. These include the Federation for Small Business, Locate in Kent, and the Institute of Directors. Together, they select themes for discussion that they consider vital for economic growth such as innovation, productivity, skills building, technology, transport, and entrepreneurship. “We also focus on sectors key for our regional economy such as food, the visitor economy, manufacturing and the creative industries,” says Williamson.

After each presentation, attendees break into roundtable discussions. The business school later disseminates a summary report of the discussions, including suggested actions that businesses, policymakers, and the university can take to develop collaborative solutions.

Attendees also collaborate throughout the year, says Williamson. The CEO of Thanet Earth, an agricultural company in the region, told organizers that “without a summit like this there is not much opportunity for business, government, and academics to come together as one.”

While the school uses several channels to reach out to businesses, “the summit by far offers us the biggest platform,” says Williamson, who notes that the school already is planning its January 2020 event. “We need to keep the content and format fresh, so we are going to be stargazing a little more,” Williamson adds. “The role of the university is to act as a neutral facilitator for discussion, provide thought leadership, encourage collaboration, and inform local and national planning.”