Paul Fairburn

Paul Fairburn, director of enterprise and innovation at Coventry University

Creating better futures through enterprise and innovation

Paul Fairburn, director of enterprise and innovation at Coventry University, explains how his team are forging, encouraging and developing relationships with companies from across the UK and beyond.

Coventry University has forged an international reputation for its close and collaborative working with industry – and its presence now stretches from its doorstep to the other side of the world. It has a dedicated Enterprise & Innovation (E&I) team that works throughout the organisation, building, encouraging and developing relationships with companies from across the UK and beyond.

The E&I team responds to business challenges, supporting companies to grow, develop and adapt to the rapidly changing demands on industry, helping to increase productivity as well as employee knowledge. It helps organisations with staff development, delivering traditional and robust industry-relevant academic courses as well as short interventions that focus on updated skills.

Research is a big part of what it does with nearly 500 researchers delivering impact in business and society as a whole. It also supports an increasing number of people from within business to undertake sustained research projects at the masters and doctoral level, looking at issues directly related to the needs of their workplace.

Its approach results in collaborations with local, national and international companies with our reach recently extending to Asia and Latin America as well as many other parts of the world.

Paul Fairburn, who has more than 20 years’ experience in industry including spells in the engineering, utilities, and pharmaceutical/ healthcare sectors, is director of enterprise and innovation at the university, he said: “There is a massive drive here to build strong and lasting relationships with industry and it is genuinely for two-way benefit. We believe that we have a great deal to offer industry, but that is equally true in reverse and our students and researchers can really benefit from our close links with business.

“Our team has extensive business knowledge and expertise and we know what it is like to run a business. We focus on helping organisations, whatever their size, to find the right support to help them to grow and develop.

“We will often be the first point of contact for any business, we will meet and identify how we can best assist and then introduce the specialists or academics who can be of help.

“We are here to provide a gateway to all that the university has to offer and we have a reputation for being approachable and efficient in sourcing and procuring the help you need for your business.

“Many of our academics have worked in industry and are therefore well placed to support businesses with both technical expertise and practical knowledge. They are embedded right across the university and that has made a crucial difference when it comes to responding to industry needs.

“Our level of business engagement ranges from light touch advice through to the development of robust strategic business partnerships such as our Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering (AME) which is a collaboration between Coventry University and Unipart Manufacturing Group.” AME brings together the best in academia, industry and R&D in a real manufacturing environment with the curriculum drawn-up equally by Unipart and the university.

The hands-on approach is not just limited to the UK. The university has full time staff based in South East Asia and South America. Fairburn adds: “Traditionally, a university’s international presence is all about student recruitment, but our strategy places equal importance on forging links with industry in those countries. We have expertise and experience in automotive engineering, advanced manufacturing, aviation management, and maritime security – considerable growth sectors in our target international territories.

“We have recently partnered with the Department for International Trade to take companies to Indo Aerospace – Indonesia’s official aviation, aircraft and airport technology show, to allow them to access what is a huge market.

“We are up for any challenge – if you have one – get in touch.”

Coventry University - driving towards the future

Quite a crowd will be expected when Coventry University’s Sparrowhawk car takes to track for the very first time after it is completed in the next two years. The Faculty of Engineering, Environment & Computing at the university has set its students a project to design and create a roadworthy, two-seater sports car with commercial potential.

Funded by the University’s Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), students have been tasked with creating a road-worthy vehicle which meets both performance and legal requirements.

SparrowhawkMore than 100 students have worked on various aspects of the Sparrowhawk vehicle, drawing expertise from a number of faculties as well as receiving support from companies from across the region.

The project is being run by Mike Dickison, associate dean of enterprise & commercial, who joined the university after a career in the automotive sector.  He has been running vehicle development programmes which have seen students design light-weight chassis, aerodynamic bodies, electric powertrains and hybrid powertrains. He created the project two and a half years ago to harness his research while also giving students experience working at industry standard and increasing their employability skills. Just as in industry, students have had to follow guidelines for each aspect of the Sparrowhawk.

Dickison said: “I wanted the car to look really attractive in terms of the styling and shape and not be too simplistic. It also has to keep up with the latest technology internally. It must be practical too and not have any fundamental drawbacks for customers.

“It must drive well, be lightweight and low carbon in terms of its powertrain as well as meeting all of the legal requirements to make it roadworthy.

“It is a real challenge for the students – but they are up for it”.

With the body built and painted, the finished vehicle is expected to be on the track in around two years when the powertrain and other components have been finally developed.

He added: “The whole idea with this project is that each new year group takes over the development of the car and they can carry on and develop new concepts while having had the bulk of the work done for them by their predecessors.”

When it’s ready the university wants to create a spinout company and produce low quantities of the Sparrowhawk. A business case is currently being created with assistance from the business school at the university and work is also being done to optimise the price of the vehicle.

Paul Noon, who as pro-vice Chancellor, enterprise and innovation, heads up the team responsible for nurturing and marketing creative business ideas, said: “This is a shining example of not only how our students work on real-life, real-time projects which have industry relevance, but also how we approach this work in a business-like way from concept through development to commercial realisation.

“Innovation – exploring and experimenting, and uncovering new and better ways of doing things – is pretty much what research specifically, and education as a whole, is all about.”

Coventry University

Paul Noon, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Enterprise & Innovation
Tel: 02476 158258 or email:

Paul Fairburn, Director, Enterprise & Innovation
Tel:  02476 158258 or email:

Enterprise & Innovation
Coventry University, The Techno Centre, Coventry University Technology Park, Puma Way, Coventry, CV1 2TT