Academics are constantly being urged to bend their knowledge to business ends. Few have done so more successfully than Martin Clarke and Alan Wilson, professors of geography at Leeds, who broke into commerce in 1987 with an improbable commission from the Post Office. They were asked to use mathematical modelling to estimate the length of rural garden paths, the object being to discover the time and savings in introducing US-style gateway mailboxes. Other commissions followed, before the professors were anything like prepared. 'We had no capital, no staff, no marketing strategy and, most of all, no experience,' admits Clarke. 'And, of course, as academics we were treated with a fair degree of suspicion.' Overcoming every prejudice, GMAP (Geographical Modelling and Planning) has expanded to 60 people and a turnover to £2.5 million. Last year the US rights were sold to a Detroit firm for $6 million. GMAP has also reached Australia - banks have used the model to decide where to open branches - plus Spain, Italy, Poland and Belgium. Wilson, although still a director, is vice-chancellor at the university. Clarke, who still lectures one day a week, runs the company as managing director. 'Some days I would be quite happy being a full-time academic again,' he reflects. 'But only occasionally.'
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