Innovators Network: Softly does it for a successful partnership

30 Oct 2017

Elspeth Finch

Partnerships can create strong resilient businesses and, with the right one, you can become more that the sum of your parts. 

When Tata brought Jaguar and Land Rover together, the brands were operating at a loss. Partnering them led to a massive change in fortunes: Jaguar Land Rover’s turnover grew from £0.9 billion in2008-09 to £2.2 billion in 2014-15.

Similarly, take IBM and Twitter, who recently partnered to help businesses and institutions better understand customers, markets and trends. Twitter’s data and IBM’s analytics services are both incredibly useful in isolation, but when combined, become a potent tool with vast commercial and social benefit.

With the uncertainty caused by Brexit and a challenging economic situation dominating the business landscape, effective partnerships are more critical than ever for UK businesses. They can provide stability and foster innovation, and are important for access to skills and new markets. Get a partnership right and it could increase your output or impact exponentially; but get it wrong, and it could damage your business.


The latest Innovators’ Network event was focused on how companies big and small can make partnerships work.

Innovators Network partnershipsWe were joined by industry figures well-versed in successful partnerships ―David Eyton, Head of Technology at BP, Dr David Parker, a Venture Partner at Touchstone Innovations, and Dr Josephine Dixon-Hardy, Director of Medical Technology Innovation at University of Leeds ― to share their experiences and help other businesses succeed.

Taking time to assess whether an organisation is the right fit for you at the beginning can make or break a partnership. The alignment of values between partners is key because, as David Eyton pointed out, partnerships may not always be plain sailing. VCs, corporate partners, government bodies and academic institutes will all have different strategic drivers. Understanding what these are, as well as identifying the common ground, is integral to achieving a successful partnership.

It’s critical that, before entering the partnership, businesses then understand their own “core competencies,” nurture them and identify how they will complement, and interact, with those of the other organisation, said David Parker. If their strengths and weaknesses are the same as your own, what will you really stand to gain?


Once you’ve established that your organisations fit and that your offerings work in conjunction, you’ll need to develop the common goals of the partnership together. 

This, argued Dr Dixon-Hardy, helps to ensure that the process, which can feel like “bringing opposing magnets together”, works. Introducing a different working culture has the potential to change the nature of your team, so ensuring both organisations are heading in the same direction, and hoping to achieve the same thing, is vital.

All of these three stages rely on clear and sustained communication between partners. It’s understandable, then, that a common thread running through the event was the need for good communication in start-ups as well as established companies looking to partner. Soft skills like this can often be overlooked by engineering companies, where technical skills are often the main driving point behind recruitment.  

Innovators network

So, we’ve established why partnerships are beneficial, and what is required to make a success of one, but how should companies you find a potential partner? As David Parker mentioned, understanding who you should partner with depends on a number of factors, such as your business stage and growth plans. You will also need to consider who you want to work with geographically. David Eyton highlighted that countries like India, China and Brazil are seeing huge growth in innovation and therefore may be a more beneficial fit than a UK-based organisation. 

Closer to home, different cities are becoming hubs, offering clear partnership opportunities for those with aligned values and goals; Dr Dixon-Hardy cited Translate MedTech which is focused on making Leeds are leading force in the healthcare sector, as an example.


It’s clear that partnerships can bring about transformative business growth if you identify and nurture the right relationships. 

This is why the Innovators’ Network is being built: to forge ties and spur communication between different types, sizes and sectors of business within engineering, so the whole industry can benefit. We create debate, provide a platform for new ideas, and ask the important questions.

This time we want your say on whether, as an industry, we should all have more of a focus on soft skills if we are to build partnerships that succeed and survive. Tweet us at @RAEng_Hub with your thoughts.

Joining the Innovators’ Network could be the start of your own successful partnership, and much more. Contact enterprise@raeng.org.uk to join.

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