The year ahead will bring many opportunities for the Research and Enterprise team plus challenges thanks to the continuing issues posed by COVID-19. Dr Rob Singh became Director of Research and Enterprise at Essex in the autumn. He's been telling Head of Corporate Communications, Ben Hall, about his new role, his highlights from his time at Essex so far, his thoughts on the latest Government announcements and what advice he would give to a new business.

What’s the best thing about your new job?

I’ve been covering this role since last November so a lot is familiar rather than new! I feel very fortunate to have the support of fantastic colleagues in the Research and Enterprise Office, who are absolute experts in each of their specialist areas, and to work in a place with a great collegiate spirit across our University.

What are the biggest opportunities in the coming years?

For research funding, I think we’re seeing a renewed emphasis from government on ensuring economic and social benefits from research. The Research and Development Roadmap was published in the summer and its been announced a new Industrial Strategy will be created. There will be opportunities for research funding stemming from this and our partnerships with external organisations are likely to be more important than ever in order to take advantage of this.

What are the biggest challenges?

All organisations are continuing to face huge challenges due to the continuing impact of COVID-19 and like other areas of the University we’ve had to quickly adapt and find new ways of working. We’ve actually found our services in more demand than ever so we’ve been incredibly busy supporting our research community. For example, we’ve dealt with a record number of research applications, up 49% on the previous year. I’m pleased we’ve risen to this challenge and hopefully will put us in a good position for the future by generating more research income in future.

What advice would you give to businesses thinking about working with Essex?

Talk to us. Universities can offer a wide variety of support to business but the options can seem complex and companies sometimes need a little extra support to understand which are right for them. We’re always happy to have a conversation about this.

Your obviously excited about supporting student entrepreneurs. What would be your three top tips?

  1. Speak with the Essex start-ups team – they can let you know about all of the support available and have links to a network of specialists to support you.
  2. Don’t worry if you don’t think you’re an ‘entrepreneur’ – there is no set type of person that develops their own business. If you’ve got a great idea we want to help.
  3. Be prepared to change tack – many of the most successful entrepreneurs have had to ‘pivot’ from their original ideas. One of the most exciting things for us is supporting a student or student team develop their ideas and that process can have many twists and turns as they develop their product or service and identify their target market.

What have been your highlights while at Essex?

I’m very proud of our EIRA programme for which we successfully attracted £4.7m from Research England and our record number of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships that place Essex second in the UK for the total number. The development and launch of Studio X in the Innovation Centre, Knowledge Gateway creates a fantastic facility to support our students from which we’re now delivering a new network through our University Enterprise Zone funding, which is an amazing achievement.