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Caroline Hyde shares her perspectives on joining Cambridge Enterprise as Head of International Relations and Outreach on the cusp of a global pandemic, and how this has helped to shape the strategic focus of our international outreach activities.
I received an email from Cambridge Enterprise’s Head of Human Resources while I was enjoying the last few days of a holiday in Singapore before starting my new role as Head of International Relations & Outreach in March 2020.
I was excited about leveraging the knowledge, experience and expertise of one of the world’s most respected and successful Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs) to build capacity and capability across the globe through training and consultancy. Impact is a key driver for me and having left Allia, where I had been nurturing and developing impact ventures for the past five years, I was excited to be taking this on at an international level. As I walked through yet another body heat checkpoint in a Singapore mall, I read that the University had added Singapore to its quarantine list and I would have to work my first week from home.
I managed two days in the office in my second week, trying desperately not to eagerly offer my hand to new colleagues as we were starting to observe new safety protocols, before Cambridge Enterprise staff were sent to work from home. Initially as a trial but quickly as a default. And within a couple of weeks we were having to make adjustments to plans for the rest of the year. Talking to clients in Europe, China, Latin America and Africa provided insight into the spread and impact that COVID-19 was starting to have on lives both personally and professionally. Incoming visits to Cambridge and trips abroad were pushed back, initially for a few months until the reality hit that they would need to be postponed indefinitely. And by indefinitely, I mean we all thought early 2021 at the latest.
My overriding observation of starting in a new role virtually is the absence of institutional knowledge that you gain by osmosis – the things you pick up simply by being around colleagues and listening to conversations.Caroline Hyde, Head of International Relations and Outreach
As the spring slid into summer, we were all getting to grips with remote working, home-schooling (I have three daughters in primary school), lockdown and banana bread making (I failed miserably here). I was trying to learn and understand the rich background and operations of a TTO that I had barely had any contact with, and the expertise of colleagues whom I had never met in person. My overriding observation of starting in a new role virtually is the absence of institutional knowledge that you gain by osmosis – the things you pick up simply by being around colleagues and listening to conversations. Luckily, however, I had a deep repository of information from previous training and consultancy projects we had delivered and I immersed myself in this to understand why other institutions, innovation agencies and governments came to Cambridge Enterprise.
I know from my experience as a CEO how important it is to review the business structure itself, as well as get to grips with the industry in which you are operating; the summer of 2020 afforded me the opportunity to review and appraise what we do under our International Outreach and how we do it, as well as how a global shift in our approach to travel, learning and collaboration facilitated by the pandemic might change things moving forwards. A quiet summer, as individuals, institutions and countries focused on responding to rising infection rates and death tolls, made us reflect on whether there might even be a need for International Outreach moving forwards.
But the response to the pandemic showed how quickly universities, businesses and their supply chains, public health authorities, hospitals, regulators and others mobilised to develop practical solutions to time-critical problems. Researchers at Cambridge and universities across the UK responded and worked with numerous partners to drive an unbelievably fast vaccine development process and setup of a nationwide therapeutic clinical trial; develop rapid diagnostic tools, early detection and warning systems, and applied innovative genome technologies to map the spread of the disease; as well as designed sharable ventilators, non-invasive breathing aids and affordable high-quality ventilators for low-income countries.
At both ministerial level and institutional level, the question of how universities could be supported to take their knowledge and research and create benefit for both the economy and humankind was being asked.Caroline Hyde, Head of International Relations and Outreach
It was this recognition, of the critical and integral role that universities and research play within the innovation ecosystem that led to first a small, but then an increasing volume, of requests for our help and assistance. At both ministerial level and institutional level, the question of how universities could be supported to take their knowledge and research and create benefit for both the economy and humankind was being asked. The International Outreach team has been working solidly since last Autumn delivering consultancy projects with virtual teams and transferring our training programmes online, helping other to build capacity and develop the infrastructure to generate impact from research. And whilst delivering, we have been learning and refining our offer too.
Our International Outreach activity is now focused in three key strategic areas; strategic consultancy, open online training programmes and working with partners to develop bespoke training programmes that can be delivered in Cambridge or in-country.
With our strategic consultancy, we have an opportunity to leverage our knowledge and experience to work with partners, understand their unique situation and context, and help build or refine innovation systems and processes. From ecosystem reviews and entrepreneurial baseline studies to developing IP Policies and supporting Innovation Centres.
Our training programmes utilise the skills of our Cambridge Enterprise colleagues to help develop learning and understanding at all levels. From online masterclasses targeted at TTO Managers to a fundamental tech transfer and commercialisation course for early career TTO staff, we are focused on providing practical and highly impactful professional development training.
The role has delivered on my aspiration to work with others to leverage the impact of University of Cambridge research to be better able to tackle the urgent global, national and local economic and societal challenges we face and deliver a healthier and more equitable, sustainable and prosperous future.Caroline Hyde, Head of International Relations and Outreach
We are delighted to be one of the first training courses to launch on the new University of Cambridge online learning platform Cambridge Advance Online. The portal launched May 2021 and courses will start this September, including our own course on Research Commercialisation and Technology Transfer.
And of course, we can’t wait to be able to host face-to-face training and visits too with our next Residential Open Programme scheduled for Easter 2022.
So, while this isn’t quite the day-to-day role I had envisioned when I joined Cambridge Enterprise, it has delivered on my initial aspiration: to work with others to leverage the impact of University of Cambridge research to be better able to tackle the urgent global, national and local economic and societal challenges we face and deliver a healthier and more equitable, sustainable and prosperous future.