step 1: trends and opportunities
The first step to connect research efforts with market needs is to identify trends and opportunities that can be used to define relevant research questions. This can be done in two ways:
conduct a market study
To understand current opportunities and trends for research and innovation, you can carry out a market analysis, looking at a specific industry at various levels. It is important to first choose which industry to look at, and this choice can be aligned with a specific faculty (e.g. food science and technology, food science and nutrition, food services and hospitality management), the focus area of a research program or sector.
A market study normally starts by looking at trends at the macro level, followed by an analysis at the industry level and finally looking at trends and opportunities at the organisational level. This process can be organised in three steps:
Macro level analysis: PEST
A PEST (Political, Economic, Social and Technological) analysis is a useful framework for analysing the external environment. To use PEST as a form of industry analysis, an analyst will analyse each of the four components of the model: political (specific policies and regulations like taxes, environmental regulation, tariffs, trade policies, labour laws and the overall political stability), economic (inflation, exchange rates, interest rates, GDP growth rates and ability to access capital), social (population growth, demographics such as age, gender, etc., as well as trends in behaviour such as health, fashion, and social movements) and technological (advancements and developments that change how business operates and the ways in which people live their lives (i.e. advent of the internet). Some variations of the PEST analysis also include environmental and legal elements, known as PESTEL.
Industry level - porter’s five forces model
As one of the most famous models developed for industry analysis, Porter’s Five Forces gives an accurate impression of the industry and makes analysis easier. The five forces are supplier power (assessing how easy it is for suppliers to drive up prices), buyer power (assessing how easy it is for buyers to drive prices down), competitive rivalry (assessing the number and capability of competitors in the market), threat of substitution (assessing whether close substitute products exist in a market, increasing the likelihood of customers switching to alternatives in response to price increases) and threat of new entry (assessing the threat of new market entrants that erode profitability).
Organisational level - SWOT Analysis
A SWOT analysis adopts the perspective of a specific business or organisation within the market. It explores four key elements: strengths (What advantages does the organisation have? What can you do better than others? What are your unique selling points?), weaknesses (What could be improved? What drives people to competitors?), opportunities (What good opportunities can you spot? What interesting trends are you aware of? What changes at technological or the political level can work to your advantage? What is happening at the local level?) and threats (What obstacles do you face? What are competitors doing? Are quality standards for your job changing? Is new technology threatening your position?).
Organise a business challenge
The purpose of a business challenge is to encourage companies and entrepreneurs to share the difficulties that they face in managing and scaling their business effectively. Through sharing, researchers become more aware of what is happening in the world of business and can design and adapt their research projects to address the real challenges of businesses.
The following steps are essential to organise a business challenge:
Step 1: establish criteria for participation
Before launching a business challenge, make sure that you decide your end goal, as well as how you will determine who can be selected to participate in the challenge (and who cannot). If it is too open, you might get too many different types of businesses, whereas if it is too narrow, you may not have sufficient applications to choose from. The scope for your challenge could be thematic, geographical or based on different categories of challenges, related to e.g. marketing, human resources or distribution. You can also make a distinction between the age and/or size of businesses (e.g. you can open your call only to start-ups).
Step 2: raise awareness about the challenge
If businesses are to participate in the challenge, they first need to know about it. To raise awareness about the benefits of participating in the challenge, you can develop marketing materials inviting the business and individual entrepreneurs to submit their application/proposal.
To create awareness about the challenge while reaching as many people as possible, you can advertise the call though different channels, including your local radio or TV station, newspapers, social media channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn and WhatsApp;, local business networks and associations, as well as networks of universities, bulletin boards and alumni networks. You can give interested businesses and entrepreneurs the choice to apply through an online form (e.g. through free web-based forms such as Google forms) or a hardcopy version of a form that you (or people in your network) can distribute in person.
Closed call for business challenges: If you or your organisation already have strong linkages with businesses in the community, you can also decide to only open the call to specific businesses or invite those that you think could benefit from participating or face particular challenges.
Step 3: Select the businesses
When selecting the businesses for the challenge, consider the criteria determined during step 1. It is also useful to engage a group of people to make the selection (i.e. form a selection committee to bring in different perspectives). The number of businesses selected should be based on your end goal and the resources available.
Step 4: Present the businesses
If you want to make other people aware of the challenges, it is important to think about how the challenges are presented. This could be during an event where each business presents its challenges, in a brief brochure or through a video pitch. Ideally the presentations should be documented for reporting later.