Tag Archives: technology transfer

Risky business

To build research-industry partnerships for successful technology transfer, Step 1 is to develop a culture and practices that promote partnership and Step 2 is to build a strong foundation for your partnership. At this point, you (a research organisation and a commercial company) have established a relationship based on trust and understanding, and are on the verge of serious commitment.

Researchers should be aware that collaboration with Company A may restrict you from jumping into bed with Company B, particularly if A and B are competitors. In business as in love, consider whether monogamy suits you before beginning a long-term partnership.

It’s hard to imagine D-I-V-O-R-C-E when you’ve just fallen in love, but any country-and-western singer and I would recommend that, before you make any vows, you should invest in couples counselling and a pre-nuptial agreement. It’s time to…

Manage risk (Step 3)

A company considers spending on research to be an investment in product or service development. Any investment carries risk, but investing in experimentation is high risk: the research may not result in the outcome desired by the industry partner, or it may take longer and cost more than anticipated to achieve that outcome.

An example from my experience at Cochlear was a surgical tool that showed promise in laboratory testing, but trials in a simulated operating theatre revealed that it was impractical for routine surgical use. Unfortunately, this issue could not be resolved, so the project did not proceed further.

The company’s decision-makers will be held accountable for the performance of their investment and so should seek to minimise or mitigate the associated risk. The research partner should share that aim, if they want a long-term relationship with the company, or a good reputation in the industry.

Risk management is hard for early-stage, ground-breaking research where the outcome is unknown and likelihood of failure is high. It’s easier for late-stage research such as product prototyping, especially where the new product’s capabilities can be demonstrated using standard components in simulated conditions.  For instance, a low-risk project to develop an augmented-reality surgical training system involved the novel integration of existing software and hardware.

Some of the most useful risk management strategies are:

  • seeding the project team with people who have the experience and skills to straddle the industry/research divide
  • nominating a divide-straddling project manager with authority to set and revise the scope, schedule and budget
  • breaking the work into small chunks with shorter timeframes
  • clearly defining roles, responsibilities and deliverables
  • linking the achievement of milestones to payments, and
  • monitoring progress with regular project reviews and making timely decisions when issues emerge.

Expect and plan for administrative overheads, including legal and reporting costs. Best practice is to establish an umbrella agreement that covers the ‘big picture’ of the partnership, with a series of smaller agreements covering specific projects. The latter should use a project management framework to define each project’s scope, resources, timeframe, deliverables and milestones, and the team members’ roles and responsibilities.  If these administrative aspects of collaboration are treated with contempt, stakeholder issues can escalate rapidly, leading to relationship breakdown.

In some industries, such as medical technology and pharmaceuticals, legal compliance is an important consideration in collaboration, requiring additional documentation, such as a formal contract including a detailed scope-of-work. In my experience, the researchers – usually university academics – with whom Cochlear collaborated were often also medical professionals involved in purchase decisions for their practices.  A contract and scope-of-work demonstrates that any payments are for legitimate research and not an inducement to do business with the company.

Often it’s legal and commercial issues that are the main hurdles in establishing research-industry collaboration. Companies want to own any intellectual property (IP) generated through the collaboration to give them freedom to operate – for example, to use the research results to support the product claims – and to gain advantage over competitors. A company will not participate in a partnership if the ownership of the relevant IP is complicated, or likely to be contested. Legal assignments or similar agreements can simplify IP ownership.

Once you’ve done all you can to manage risk, feel free to release the doves, scatter the rose petals and process down the aisle. But if you hope to see cobwebs grow on your unused pre-nup, remember that the happiest marriages are those supported by the extended family on both sides. That’s why my next post will be about using your teams to best effect (Step 4). My final post in this series will be about measuring your impact (Step 5), because every marriage has a legacy. Watch this space.

research-industry collaboration

– James Dalton, gemaker

Click here for information about gemaker’s industy engagement training program for researchers.

gemaker

Sowing the seeds of technology transfer

Originally I trained as a chemist, but recently I’ve been thinking about the commercialisation of research outcomes – our area of expertise at gemaker – in botanical terms. At the risk of sounding like hippie Neil from ‘The Young Ones’, I’ll explain by asking you to consider the timeless wonder of a seed…

The seed represents a new idea, resulting from years of work by researchers in a university or similar institution. Given the right conditions, the seed will grow into an entirely new variety of plant. The innovative ideas of researchers have the potential to improve our lives in myriad ways, so the metaphorical plant could be a new source of food or medicine, or it might produce an exquisite perfume, or superior wood.

Having created a seed with wonderful potential the researcher needs someone like a farmer, to sow the seed and grow it, producing a bumper harvest. In other words, the researcher needs an industry client.

Like a farmer, the industry client has customers to please, and if customers want crisper apples, the farmer won’t waste time and money cultivating redder roses. The wisest researchers engage with industry clients to learn about market problems and demands before commencing R&D, then create seeds to meet needs.

To reach the targeted market, innovations need funding like plants need water – and more than just a drip feed. Without adequate funding for pest control (IP protection), viable mutations (prototyping), taste testing (beta testing) the researcher’s seed will never grow to fruition. It may look like a plant that’s been sitting at the supermarket for weeks losing value as it dries up and dies.

How do customers like them apples?

With funding, innovators can prove their concept: how do customers like them apples? Beta testing delivers feedback to guide product or service refinements before market entry, as well as creating an opportunity to acquire valuable early-adopter testimonials for marketing purposes.

To grow tall, new products and services need the sunlight of strategic marketing to shine on them. In the energising glow of a strong campaign, online and in traditional media, the innovation will thrive. With effective marketing, yields are maximised; without it, even the greatest innovations shrivel and die.

We do our best to help innovators achieve their optimal commercial outcome, whether this is a spin-off from a research organisation, growing sales of the product or service, licensing agreements, or sale of a business. Like anything worthwhile, the commercialisation process takes time. Few innovators achieve ‘overnight’ success, but it’s possible: you can produce strawberries in just two months. If you plant an apple tree, it takes six to ten years to bear fruit.

Like farming, commercialisation is challenging, and we all depend on it being done well. Better research-industry engagement, enhanced professionalism in technology transfer, supportive government policies and improved funding strategies will all help to turn more of our researchers’ discoveries into new Australian industries, achieving a better future for us all. To quote the wisdom of Neil: ‘This self-sufficiency thing really is amazing.’

How does gemaker help?

Gemaker helps researchers to:

• Match their research to commercial applications
• Find industry partners
• Source consistent commercialisation funding
• Identify how to best protect their intellectual property, and
• Sell their wonderful seeds so they can grow to fruition for everyone’s benefit

We keep an eye on the sky (we study global market trends and government policy changes), searching for rainclouds (grants and other sources of funding) that could hydrate seedlings (spin offs and startups). If necessary, we’ll dig an irrigation channel and perform a rain-dance (to attract angel investors or venture capitalists).

– Natalie Chapman

university-industry collaboration

Blueprints to a collaboration boom

Featured image above: Robin Knight (right) and Patrick Speedie (left) are cofounders of university-industry collaboration platform IN-PART. Credit: IN-PART

Robin, you’re four years into the IN-PART journey, and you’re already connecting 70% of your university opportunities with potential partners. Can you take us back to the start, and tell us how you first came to be interested in university-industry collaboration?

Prior to setting up IN-PART I was in academic research at King’s College London. I was always interested in collaborating with industry partners, especially when working in an area with potentially translatable outputs.

While undertaking my PhD I started working on an academic-to-academic platform with a couple of colleagues, and during that time I had a conversation with my now co-founder and long-time friend, Patrick Speedie, who was working in IP management and publishing. Our shared experiences and discovery of the need to better connect the two worlds of academia and industry motivated us to form university-industry collaboration platform IN-PART.

Tell us a bit more about IN-PART and how it gained traction?

At its core, IN-PART a tool to help Tech Transfer teams (and by extension researchers) find external partners interested in their research. The translation of academic research into impactful outputs is key to the advancement of society, and we wanted to be a key part in increasing those outputs.

So we began by building a network of individuals in industry who were both capable and motivated to interact with universities about research. Then we had to figure out the best and most efficient way to showcase opportunities to them.

After piloting a minimum viable version of IN-PART with six UK universities in 2013, we managed to find 25% of provided opportunities with potential industry partners in just two months. Three years and two investment rounds later, we now provide over 70% of each university’s content with potential partners.

IN-PART is all about university-industry collaboration. Why did you choose to focus on universities in particular?

We use the broader term of universities to represent publicly-funded research. Amongst these we will also include research institutions, and notably we recently welcomed Public Health England to IN-PART. They are a very interesting case as the outputs from a government lab differ from those of a traditional research institute, owing to the more hazardous bio-projects they undertake and different potential technologies that result.

Our industry audience are often seeking to access the academic behind available IP, especially if considering a license. It’s rare that a company would be able to take a technology and have it fit directly into their research pipeline – expertise is required for guiding that fit and this makes universities and research institutions such an attractive resource.

An important element of what we do is making sure all the content we have is ‘available’. This means we do not ‘scrape’ websites for technology nor trawl the internet, which turns up expired patents and technology where the academic is no longer associated. Instead we keep in close communication with university teams to make sure everything we have is relevant and up to date.

We do not work with company or industry generated IP seeking licensees. We also never want to be in the industry of trading IP for the sake of litigation, which from my personal point of view seems to counter our progression as a species.

I’ve noticed that at IN-PART, you restrict your platform to particular industry professionals. Have you found this to be important to the success of your collaboration model?

Yes, very important. When we first piloted IN-PART in the UK under a beta-test with six universities, it was clear that we wanted to only provide introductions to end-users in industry. By restricting our audience in this manner it meant that every contact we passed along was meaningful and high-value. What we didn’t want to do was pass on opportunities to work with consultants. That being said, consultants provide a valuable component within the ecosystem and we’re currently exploring how they can be included within our community.

To hear more from Dr Robin Knight about the key drivers behind successful commercialisation and collaboration, click here.

profile_inpartrobin

Dr Robin Knight is Co-founder and Director of UK-based university-industry collaboration platform IN-PART.

Click here to find out more about opportunities with IN-PART. To find more industry-ready technology from Australian universities, visit Source IP.

research and industry partnerships

What you can do for industry

My team and I have just run a two-day workshop at a Sydney-based university aimed at empowering academic researchers to engage professionally, effectively and sustainably with industry, and it was an eye-opening experience for us all.

As always happens when I teach, I learnt a lot, even though technology transfer is my expertise. I learnt more about what holds researchers back from beneficial partnerships with industry, and shared the joy of ‘A-ha!’ moments, when they realised what they could change or start doing, to seed the relationships they need.

From 1 January 2017, academic researchers will need those ‘A-ha!’ breakthroughs more than ever, as the Australian Government intends to introduce new research funding arrangements for universities that give equal emphasis to success in industry and other end-user engagement as it does to research quality.

After two days exploring industry imperatives and restrictions, and developing skills in market research and commercial communication, I interviewed the 16 participants, to determine any leaps in understanding they had made during the workshop. I found two major developments in their thinking:

1. Looking at the relationship with industry from the other side

‘I need to engage with the needs of the stakeholder,’ said one participant.

‘Go with open questions – don’t make it about you,’ said another.

To paraphrase JFK, academics should ask not what industry can do for them, but what they can do for industry. Only by identifying and understanding the needs of businesses (driven by the needs of customers), can academics think about how outcomes of their research – innovative ideas or new technologies – might solve some problems faced by industry. This is the first step in building a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.

A particularly switched-on workshop participant realised the value of talking to industry before starting a new research project, then designing the project to deliver a real-world solution, identifying the ‘importance of prior planning – allowing time for the relationship to develop’. A-ha!

For many, the breakthrough came when they realised that this is not selling out – that commercialisation is not the dark side of research. Commercialisation is how researchers can turn their potentially life-saving or world-bettering discoveries into real products or services to make an actual difference in medicine, the environment, space, communications, data, energy, or wherever their passions lie. I have written more about this here.

2. Appreciating the importance and value of social media – especially LinkedIn – in finding industry contacts and maintaining industry partnerships.

‘I need to advertise myself better,’ was one participant’s succinct take-home.

Yes! Otherwise industry will struggle to find you, even if your R&D capabilities are a perfect fit for their needs. It came as a surprise to several academics that the kings and queens of commerce do not spend hours trawling ResearchGate, seeking potential partners, or in many cases even know of it. They hadn’t considered that ResearchGate is a closed door to non-researchers. In contrast, a targeted, professional and proactive presence on LinkedIn will rapidly get a researcher’s foot in the right industry door.

Other breakthroughs in learning about research and industry partnerships

One workshop participant found it enlightening to think about research outcomes ‘in measurable terms’.

Another experienced ‘surprising results from acting outside my comfort level’ when they were tasked with approaching and engage strangers in conversation.

Engaging with industry can be confronting for researchers, requiring investment of time and some additional knowledge and skills, as I know from personal experience, shared here. But what if you consider the potential comfort of ongoing funding from a productive industry partnership, plus the satisfaction of turning your research findings into measurable real-world benefits..?

A-ha!

– Natalie Chapman, Managing Director, gemaker

You might also enjoy this post on research and industry partnerships:

Engaging industry in research

technology transfer

Empowering knowledge transfer

To date TTPs have lacked clear and identifiable career paths.  While commercialising publicly funded research is relatively new, the drive from external stakeholders such as Government and business to “do better” has escalated the need to better define the practice, and outline what is required to effectively put research to use in both an ethical and competent manner.

Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) commissioned the development of a world-first career Capability Framework that defines the skills, knowledge, behaviours and values required by a team taking research to market, and outline career paths for those working in the role at different levels. 

Entitled Knowledge Transfer in Australia: Is there a route to professionalism?,  the new Framework is the result of intensive research where 103 TTPs, 31 stakeholders and 64 Australasian organisations were interviewed and surveyed. It describes up to 200 desired capabilities for TTPs, divided into seven clusters and sixteen sub-clusters, and classified by development stages: early-career, mid-career and senior level. 

Infographic

technology transfer professionals
Click the image above to open KCA’s Technology Transfer Professionals infographic.

Results

Study participants perceived the skills of Australasian TTPs to be strong in the area of intellectual property advice and knowledge transfer, plus the qualifications and experience of those in the industry is well respected. The skills requiring the most development are in the areas of business acumen, communications and influence, legal compliance and advice, marketing and relationships, social media, and strategy and results.

KCA Chair and Director of Monash Innovation at Monash University, Dr Alastair Hick says that with increased demand and interest in improving the transfer of research to market, the KCA Framework comes at the right time. 

“To date there has been a lot of discussion about Australia’s record of translating research success into commercial uptake and jobs creation, with much of it focussing on the researcher,” says Hick.  

“However, technology transfer professionals play a vital role in commercialising research out of research organisations so ensuring they have the right skills and development are crucial to this commercial success. The framework is helping us to benchmark our performance and skills and see where KCA can provide additional training opportunities for our members.”

Applications

In March 2015, the Professional Standards Council awarded a $98,000 grant to KCA to develop the framework for the professional competency standards of the technology transfer sector.

“The Capability Framework we have developed provides benchmarks for technology transfer professionals (TTPs), against which the performance of individuals and teams can be measured,” says Hick.

“A digest of the Framework will be provided to KCA Members as a toolkit to improve recruitment practices, select targeted professional development, communicate their capabilities to stakeholders, and enable informed self-assessment and career planning.

“Researchers and industry stakeholders can also use the Framework to improve their understanding of the role of TTPs, thereby promoting more transparent, accountable and productive partnerships.”

Next steps for Technology Transfer Professionals

Recommendations for KCA and similar organisations include the development of a Code of Ethics for the TTP sector; focused education programs to address the identified skills gaps; secondment and mentoring programs involving Technology Transfer Offices and industry stakeholders and a formal processes for stakeholder feedback on the performance of TTPs.

“We are delighted to see this report, as it tackles the issue of advancing knowledge exchange and commercialisation by providing insights to build Australian industry,” says Dr Deen Sanders, Chief Executive Officer of the Professional Standards Council.

“It also shows that this sector is taking a serious and strategic approach to raising standards and becoming a profession,” says Sanders. 

Read the full report here.

This information was first shared by Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia and gemaker on 9 September 2016. Read the original article here.