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Shaping the function of IAAPS

How research from our academics informed the launch of an innovative new propulsion systems facility.

A man and woman working on a car
The IAAPS facility is designed to facilitate collaboration between academia and industry.

Innovation doesn’t exist in isolation. Geographical groupings – or ‘clusters’ – of companies working in the same industry can help to encourage both competition and collaboration, offering benefits for all involved.

These effects are even more pronounced when local research-intensive universities get involved, sharing cutting-edge expertise from academics.

Better yet is when the firms within these clusters go on to form knowledge-sharing networks, enabling the companies to access both insight and equipment that they may otherwise be unable to.

But how do you encourage such networks to develop?

Building with purpose

Facilitating the creation of local networks was one of the challenges that the University faced when establishing the £70 million Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS), which officially opened in 2023.

Based at Bristol & Bath Science Park, IAAPS is a purpose-built facility for pure electric, hybrid electric, battery, internal combustion engine and hydrogen-based propulsion research. As a unique hub for innovation in the area, IAAPS is ideally positioned to act as the focal point for a knowledge network.

In 2016, Dr Felicia Fai and Professor Phil Tomlinson, co-directors of the School's Centre for Governance, Regulation & Industrial Strategy, helped to shed light on what small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the automotive and aerospace industries would find most useful and attractive in IAAPS. This then enabled the University to develop the facility with collaboration in mind from its earliest stages.

Bridging the gap

Felicia and Phil’s report IAAPS: Building Bridges with Small and Medium Sized Firms, written with Dr Marc Betton and MSc student Alicia-Carine Becht Panogiotides, identified the main benefits that SMEs expected to gain from IAAPS, which largely revolved around the opportunities to join networks.

SMEs also indicated that the presence of a global automotive original equipment manufacturer (OEM) at IAAPS would make local networks even more valuable.

Conversely, obstacles to engagement included being ‘unsure of what they might contribute’ and ‘being unaware of the services IAAPS could provide’ – which additionally helped to shape the marketing of the facility.

Offering insights

Recommendations that were implemented from Felicia and Phil's report include:

  • Ensuring that all information about IAAPS communicated to the public was clear and focused
  • Setting up an onsite knowledge transfer team within the facility
  • Holding subsidised events to offer networking opportunities

Thanks to these insights, the University was able ensure that the facility’s launch was supported by large amounts of outreach to the local business community in order to draw in SMEs.

At Phil and Felicia's suggestion, the facility also appointed an entrepreneur-in-residence to facilitate the combination of academic expertise and commercial focus, and to help develop networks based around the local cluster.

The team made a significant contribution with a research report on the potential benefits of the new facility for SMEs and offered advice on the key features necessary to attract them. This influenced our approach to marketing and designing the facility.
Honorary Professor Steve Egan CBE Former Vice President (Implementation), University of Bath

The report utilised data from a survey of over 1,100 UK SMEs working in the automotive and the technologically related aerospace industries, and formed part of the University’s documentation in its successful bid for external funding for IAAPS.

The survey's questions focused on the perceived benefits and deterrents to engagement with IAAPS, from the facility itself through to potential anchor tenants.

In later work, funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Felicia, Phil and Dr Chris Dimos utilised the data to publish a policy article in Regional Studies, a world-leading (AJG 4) journal, on the role of universities as regional anchors in developing a new cluster.

Reaping the benefits

By 2023 IAAPS had collaborated with industry on over 130 projects, including major partnerships with OEMs such as Ford and McLaren.

Firms identified the leading benefits that they gain from engagement with IAAPS as:

  • Access to and sharing of information relevant to latest technologies
  • Scope to enhance their own company image
  • Access to a wider network of industry contacts

Developing sustainable, clean and affordable propulsion systems

Explore the IAAPS facility.


Meet the team involved in the study.

Explore more of the research