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