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There is great growth potential in digitising small and medium-sized enterprises that already have a healthy business. For security company Actas, the starting point was a collaboration with a student from Aalborg University – who is now the head of the company’s IT department.

Alarms, surveillance and locking systems. Actas grew from a small start-up to North Jutland’s leading security company in ten years. By 2016, the company had grown to 60 employees, and growth in the core business was still going strong. But at the same time, one of the founders had a great idea for a new business leg. To make it a reality, it just required IT skills that the company didn’t yet have.

“We had a single academic employed as finance manager, and then there were 59 staff who were not academics. So it wasn’t something they had experience with, and they hadn’t looked into the IT part at all. The founder just thought it was exciting and had some good ideas,” says Lea Drejer Raunslund, HR manager and QA manager at Actas.

The first major step in IT development was the ABA-info system, which was developed as part of a collaboration between Actas and a study group from Aalborg University. The next step was through an internship, where a student from Aalborg University joined the company. Today, he is the head of the development department at Actas, which has 7 employees. A department that today is responsible for a new, and important business leg of Actas – which in the meantime has grown to 115 employees.

Cooperation creates growth

In North Jutland, 14 percent of companies collaborate with a Danish university, making the region the leader in Denmark for university collaborations, according to figures from Statistics Denmark. And a survey by Aalborg University (AAU) shows that this kind of collaboration is a great idea for companies: 3 out of 4 companies with which AAU collaborates estimate that the collaboration leads to increased turnover, while 60 percent expect increased exports.

But the collaborations are not just for the companies. According to Morten Dahlgaard, Acting Director of Innovation at AAU, it is also in the students’ interest.

“There are many benefits for students in entering into collaboration. For some students, it’s a matter of empirical data for a project. For some, the collaboration can be used as part of a research project. But for most students, it is a collaboration with a potential employer and an opportunity to test academic skills in practice,” says Morten Dahlgaard.

AAU is already collaborating with industry in various ways and Dahlgaard sees these partnerships as an integral part of the university’s mission.

“We have a goal to deliver knowledge to the world, and the best way to do that is through collaboration. We want to be recognised as a mission-driven university, driven by a meaningful purpose that extends beyond the university itself and contributes to the sustainable development of the world. And for us, that means being even closer to our partners,” says Morten Dahlgaard.

Morten Dahlgaard, Acting Director of Innovation at AAU. Photo: Kirstine Halgaard.

Business collaborations at Aalborg University

  • AAU enters into between 300-400 research agreements with private companies annually.
  • AAU collaborates annually with more than 10 percent of the innovation-active companies in the Central Jutland region.
  • Half of the partners are small and medium-sized enterprises with no more than 50 employees.
  • 90 percent of companies consider that collaboration has led to innovation to some or a great extent.
  • 72 percent of companies estimate that cooperation will lead to increased turnover, while 60 percent expect increased exports.
  • Over eight years, companies that collaborate with AAU experience productivity growth that is 12 percentage points higher than those that do not collaborate with AAU.

Source: Iris Goup – “From knowledge to societal benefit “

Crucial for growth

With its own IT solutions development department, Actas today has a range of products on the shelf that give it a clear competitive edge in the industry. In fact, other security companies are now buying Actas IT solutions.

“Our web access, developed by Morten and others who started as an intern, is a very special product in the industry. It makes it possible for the various security systems to talk to each other – and no one else can do that. It’s been created through collaboration with universities, and skilled academics who have helped build it,” says Lea Drejer Raunslund.

Today, IT solutions have become a significant business leg for Actas, but the first step in the new direction was nevertheless a big one. After all, the business was healthy and growing, and they didn’t want to risk the entire shop on investing in a major IT project. That’s why the collaboration with Aalborg University was also a great opportunity to get started carefully before the IT investment was scaled up in earnest.

“The interns have been crucial. They’re the ones who make it happen; you can try something new without major consequences if it doesn’t succeed. Our IT products are one of the fastest growing right now – so Actas would be a completely different company today if we hadn’t gone down that road,” says Lea Drejer Raunslund.

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