Collaborative thinking between universities and industry can take partnerships to next level

The National Centre for Creativity enabled by AI (CebAI) at City, University of London welcomed speakers from across academia, the arts and business to discuss technology, human creativity, and effective collaboration in the first conference of its kind.

The National Centre for Creativity enabled by AI (CebAI) at City, University of London welcomed speakers from across academia, the arts and business to discuss technology, human creativity, and effective collaboration in the first conference of its kind.

The conference, which was hosted by Professor Neil Maiden, director of CebAI, opened with a discussion on how to collaborate, with Professor Anthony Finkelstein, President of City, University of London, and former Chief Scientific Advisor for National Security, giving the first keynote speech.

Professor Finkelstein said that, in his experience, the best collaborations come from problems.

“Starting with a practical problem does not necessarily imply a short-term approach. Some of my best ‘fundamental’ research started with my industry partners confronting me with what at first appeared a simple everyday problem that turned out to be anything but simple.

“What constitutes success in a collaboration isn’t always clear, so we must reveal what are the ‘win conditions’, and what constitutes success and buys credibility.

“We must be frank and willing to share strategy and timelines; there is no point in collaborative research if you’re unwilling to share potentially commercially sensitive directions and data.

“Students are a valuable resource, but they are learning and have their own goals that will take priority and may not immediately tie in with a collaboration. Talent and recruitment are an important element of successful partnerships.

“Research is a relationship business. We need to teach each other and exploit existing work. Also, let us stop quibbling, I have seen too many collaborations flounder over arguments to do with IP.”

There were additional presentations on the subject of collaboration between the commercial and academic sectors and speakers included Jennie Shorley, Head of Engaged Scholarship at Manchester Metropolitan University, Dr Dyaa Albakour, Principle Data Scientist at Signal AI – a company started in an East London garage in 2013 and is now a multi-million pound international tech company – and Sports Performance Consultant Alex Wolf – who is working in partnership with CebAI to develop the Sport Sparks app which enables creative problem solving for elite coaching teams.

Dr Albakour said working with universities was key in his company’s progression.

“Research should always bring value and competitive advantage. Working with universities can play an important role in allowing exploratory research on the most cutting-edge alternatives on how to solve certain problems.”

Mr Wolf added: “A collaboration equation would be good clarity plus good people, mixed with an opportunity to exploit opportunities. This multiplied by investment means the chance to collaborate well exponentially increases.”

The second session on ‘monetising creativity’ was led by Alice Hu Wagner, Managing Director of London & Partners and former lead of Strategy, Economics and Business Development at the British Business Bank.

Ms Hu Wagner encouraged the need “to think about lateral, collaborative thinking – not only linear thinking” when choosing what and how to monetise a product.

There were additional presentations by Ioannis Agiomyrgiannakis, Founder and CEO of Altered, which offers AI voice generation service for marketing campaigns, Geo Martin, a serial tech entrepreneur and Maria Diaz, Head of Fellowship at Faculty, an applied AI company that helps organisations to adopt AI into their business by recruiting PhD students straight from UK universities and putting them through a bespoke business boot camp before placing them into commercial positions.

The third session on ‘ethics, AI and the 4th Industrial Era’ was led by Stephen Thompson, who heads up the Data Science team at Grant Thornton, with presentations from The National Digital Exploitation Centre, Ghislaine Boddington, Creative Director of body>data>space, Alex May, a contemporary artist examining the cultural and societal impact of digital technologies, and Bunmi Durowoju of Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Cloud organisation.

Mr Thompson, who works with financial institutions to bring about step change in taking advantage of AI, said the advances in machine learning and AI are already being integrated into society – whether it be through mobile phones or other devices – but there was “a need to amplify the risks, and make clear the societal concerns”.

The final session of the day was titled ‘Inspiring a Future Vision’ and was led by Dr Christopher Gibson, Senior Policy Advisor at Research England UKRI. Dr Gibson was joined by Irini Papadimitriou, Creative Director at innovation lab Future Everything, Dr Sara Jones, Director of the Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice at City, University of London, and Dr Margaret Heffernan, best-selling author who discussed the themes of uncertainty, experimentation and collaboration.

Dr Gibson said: “By working with business and partners to bring new markets to product, universities are acting as a local bank of growth and regeneration. If you’re a business or commercial entity, speak to your university – it is by working together that we will achieve success.”

Dr Heffernan added: “All work is social, whether it be from home or campus or office. It advances at the speed of your relationships. The better they are the better your work will be.”

Professor Maiden closed the conference by thanking the speakers.

“I have learned a huge amount, which will help support how HEIs and businesses can work together. We are scratching the surface of the issue and I look forward to discussing it with everyone next year.”

All of the sessions were recorded and will be published on the CebAI Channel of the Bayes Business School’s You Tube feed.

The full programme and speaker line-up is published at

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