Tag Archives: university collaboration

university to business

Bringing business to uni

Prime Minister Turnbull coined the catchphrase “collaborate or crumble” in December 2015 as he launched the $5 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA).

The phrase replaced the longstanding “publish or perish” dictum to engage university researchers with NISA’s ambitious goals. Since then, universities have implemented several of the recommendations from the Watt Review, which was tasked with bringing into force changes to university research funding models to incentivise collaboration with business.

NISA simultaneously introduced financial incentives and initiatives to boost the innovation performance of Australian business.

Some of these opportunities can be leveraged within the framework of the business to business (B2B) model. Considerably more could be leveraged from the still relatively unexploited university to business (U2B) model.

Bringing university to business

A key advantage of the university to business model is that universities aren’t driven by the company bottom line. In principle, this should make cooperation and collaboration significantly easier to manage than in the B2B model.

To take advantage of the NISA incentives and initiatives, however, new U2B collaborations need to be established.

This is a challenge, because university research and Australian business have traditionally existed in parallel universes. One practical strategy is universities opening the doors to their own research hubs.

Established as “knowledge transaction spaces”, similar to industry-led Knowledge Hubs, university research hubs are ideal for university to business interactions because they engage researchers from a broad range of disciplines, with diverse skills sets – a veritable smorgasbord of intellectual resources all in one place.

The Charles Perkins Centre Hub at the University of Sydney, for example, is a melting pot of researchers in metabolic disease, and was established deliberately to be highly interdisciplinary and de-shackled from conventional biomedical research approaches.

Indeed, its approach is strongly aligned with the “convergence” strategy advocated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in their 2016 report, based on an earlier white paper.

The University of Sydney’s newest research hub is the Sydney Nanoscience Hub, part of the Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology. Although STEM-focused, nanoscience and nanotechnology involves diverse disciplines and has broad applications, some of which cannot even be imagined.

While quantum computing is attracting enormous interest from business, some researchers are looking to biology for inspiration to design next-generation nanotechnology devices. Why biology? Because every interaction between molecules in living organisms occurs on nano-scales.

In fact, some proteins are even referred to as “nano-machines” and because they operate so efficiently in such a busy, compact environment, they potentially hold the clue to discovering how to make practical quantum computers work in the real world.

Similarly, bio-inspired nanotechnology devices, designed to emulate brain-like adaptive learning, open up the possibility of neuromorphic “synthetic intelligence” hardware in next-generation autonomous systems.

Such synthetically intelligent robots could be sent to remote, unexplored places, such as the deep ocean or deep space. They could be used in place of real humans without requiring any pre-programming; information processing and critical decision making would occur on the fly, in real time – just as if they were real humans.

Collaborate and accelerate

The benefits of collaboration may seem obvious, but sometimes it is worth stating the obvious from different perspectives. When people interact, they self-organise, forming groups that operate collectively to achieve imperatives as well as unexpected outcomes.

These outcomes would otherwise not be possible at the individual level – the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. We experience this every day now through social media.

In the internet age that we find ourselves in today, it has never been more important to collaborate, simply because of the sheer volume of information we have access to and the increasing rate at which this data is growing.

We cannot feasibly keep up with this as individuals, but as teams, we can.

Knowledge can be gained by individuals much more effectively through interactions with others than by searching the internet or reading a research publication.

That new shared information can be applied more efficiently. This means that through collaboration, researchers and business can accelerate their progress on the path to success, however they each choose to measure it. 

Professor Zdenka Kuncic

Founding Co-Director, Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, The University of Sydney

Read next: Professor Andrew Rohl, Director of the Curtin Institute for Computation, compares academic collaboration with partnerships that involve industry. 

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successful commercialisation

Key drivers behind successful commercialisation

Featured image above: Robin’s team driving successful commercialisation and university-industry collaboration at IN-PART. Credit: Jennifer Wallis, Ministry of Startups

Robin, it’s great to have you with us to share your insights into successful research-industry partnerships. Let’s start with universities. In your experience, what factors make a university’s research most ripe for application by industry?

That’s a good question, and one that doesn’t have an easy answer! It’s entirely dependent upon the sector, the company, and what they’re seeking from a university. We’ve never pigeonholed ourselves as being a ‘commercialisation platform’ per se, as we believe that university-industry collaboration in all forms can lead to great outcomes.

Some of the best instances of successful commercialisation have occurred alongside goals for longer-term strategic partnership with a research program. End results in this instance include funding for studentships, secondments, and research commercialisation on a large scale. By virtue of this, the earlier relationships can be established the better.

I’m a complete believer in ‘research for research’s sake’, but for programs designed to have societal impact, the best way of achieving it is with a commercial partner in mind from the beginning.

What have you found universities who’ve achieved successful commercialisation do better than others?

University tech-transfer teams have numerous roles to fulfil, and one of those is to manage two often very different mindsets and expectations when it comes to their academics and potential partners in industry. Their role is a crucial one, and being a steadfast, efficient liaison is key. That means being responsive, knowledgeable and more often than not, flexible to both the needs of the academic and industry partner.

In the first instance people need to speak, and if there are prohibitory conditions and pensive overseers during initial dialogues, it can sully a relationship from the beginning, which at its core relies upon growing and nurturing trust between parties. That being said, it’s a tough line to walk, but the best are those most willing to participate in the first instance.

What factors have you found to be vital to both forming and maintaining successful collaborations between research and industry?

Technology transfer in the university sector benefits from great membership networks, with KCA in Australia, Praxis in the UK, ASTP-Proton in mainland Europe, and AUTM in the US. These networks promote best practice amongst the community, and it’s always great to hear people sharing experiences whilst networking.

Owing to this openness within the community there’s been a rapid evolution for adopting new tech-transfer techniques (that work). From our experience it is those people who are most amenable to engage with new initiatives and alter how they interact, who work best. That means making the most of existing networks and proactively expanding them at conferences, on the phone, through Linkedin, and of course, through IN-PART.

Additionally, feedback from industry tells us that university websites are labyrinthine, and the sites that work best do not showcase the internal complexities of organisations, but have key individuals for contact regarding broad academic sectors. These people provide triage on inbound inquiries, directing them through the most efficient channel; essentially taking the work off potential partners who might struggle to identify who it is they should speak with in the first instance.

To hear more from Dr Robin Knight about breaking down barriers to university-industry collaboration, and emerging trends in university-industry partnerships, 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.