Science Meets Business, a website produced by specialist STEM content company Refraction Media has launched a new partnership with LCU, Laboratories Credit Union. Science Meets Business reaches thousands of unique users weekly and focusses on science innovation and business news.
LCU is a locally owned and operated credit union established 60 years’ ago by CSIRO staff and based in North Ryde, Sydney. LCU has partnered with Science Meets Business as a sponsor of the Science Meets Business’ regular e-newsletter.
“We are delighted to partner with LCU with our aligned audience and interests as Australia’s only site focussed on the full cycle of innovation in Australian science,” said Refraction Media CEO and publisher, Karen Taylor-Brown.
“LCU was founded by scientists and we’re committed to connecting with, and supporting, this important part of the community,” said Leanne Harris, General Manager, LCU.
Science Meets Business kicked off in 2014 and is also supported by the Co-operative Research Centre’s Association and the Australian Council of Deans of Science.
This blog series describes five steps to build industry-research partnerships for successful technology transfer. If you missed it, you can learn about Step 1 – develop a culture and practices that promote partnership – in my previous post. When you’re ready, here’s Step 2…
2. Build a strong foundation for your partnership
This stage of the potential collaboration follows the introduction and is about getting to know each other and building trust and understanding. These intangible assets take time to develop and are essential for a positive, productive relationship. Therefore, spending time in regular contact with potential partners, especially face-to-face, is critical and will pay dividends.
While informal meetings help potential collaborators get to know each other at a human level, face-to-face time should not be entirely unstructured. Every interaction should work towards answering two critical questions about motivations and expectations:
What does the company hope to achieve through the industry-research collaboration?
What does the research organisation seek to accomplish?
Answering these questions will minimise the risk of disappointment and conflict later. Also, when the tech transfer office and other administrators step in to draft the contract, having a clear, shared understanding of the purpose of the collaboration will simplify their negotiations. It’s useful to have these parties meet face-to-face as early as possible, so that they have time to build empathy too.
At Cochlear, when my colleagues and I met face-to-face with potential research collaborators, we planned an agenda in advance, identifying the issues we needed to discuss. We also spent time over lunch or dinner getting to know each other personally.
When members of the research team visited our office to learn more about Cochlear’s operations, we invited them to explain their research interests, achievements and experiences to all staff in a lunchtime seminar. These interactions helped both parties and their wider organisations develop trust and understanding.
Industry-research collaboration brings a sudden injection of new colleagues. Before commitment, each party should understand the strengths and weaknesses of their potential co-workers, and what they would contribute to the collaboration, i.e:
Who is in each team and what is their role?
What is each team member’s experience and expertise?
How does each team measure up against their peers and competitors?
Has either team ever collaborated with others on the opposite side of the industry-research divide before? If so, what was the outcome?
As companies need to keep a watchful eye on their competitors, while sniffing out new market opportunities, they will also ask the research team the following questions:
Where is the science heading and on what timeframe?
What are the critical questions that remain unanswered in the field and what will it take to answer them?
What do the researchers know about any relevant industry collaborations involving their peers?
One of the best ways to understand technological trends and the R&D strategy of competitors is by analysing their patenting and publishing activities. At Cochlear, we readily shared knowledge of competitors’ activities with our research collaborators, so they could be our ‘eyes and ears’ in the research sector.
Potential collaborators must discuss the following:
What problem are we seeking to solve?
Who are the end users / customers and how can we improve value for them?
What are our time and budget constraints and what is achievable within them?
This phase of the industry-research collaboration is the time to identify any flaw in the research direction. In one case in my experience, the research had merit in its aims, but the proposed solution was impractical. Cochlear’s engineering expertise redirected the research, leading to a significant leap in the field and demonstrating the benefit of the collaboration.
By taking time: to build a personal relationship based on trust; to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses; to share information about threats and opportunities; to nail down the problem and how it may be solved practically; and above all, to clarify the expectations of each party; collaborators will lay down a solid foundation on which to build successful commercialisation projects.
The next steps in best practice industry-research collaboration for technology transfer are:
Use your teams to best effect and
Measure your impact
To learn more about these, please watch this space for subsequent posts.
Featured image above: global collaboration. Credit Eric Fischer, Flickr
Robin, having been in this space for several years, can you tell us what is different about university-industry collaboration now, compared with 5 or 10 years ago? Have you noticed any trends emerging that we might see driving partnerships in the future?
We’ve been in the space for around four years, and in this short period of time we’ve seen a shift towards greater openness between universities and industry. Local governments, especially in countries where the knowledge-economy is becoming more important as manufacturing starts to wind down, have in part aided this change. Education throughout the industry community through shared membership bodies has also been key to improving relationships.
There’s a highly cited statistic from the UK government commissioned Dowling Review, that only 2% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) would think to consult their local university if they came upon a technological challenge. This is something that needs to change. It’s crucial that governments continue to engage in improving university-industry collaboration, bringing down financial barriers which hinder interactions for smaller companies. Grants for joint projects help do this, and private grant-writing companies within the space also play a role for companies wanting to access money but unsure how to go about it.
In the UK the Impact Agenda, which formed part of the government’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) for 2014, was party to much scepticism. Universities were required to submit case studies regarding the Impact of their research on industry, governmental policy and direct public impact. The level of funding for universities was affected by the impact of these case studies which were each given a score. It meant quite a culture shift took place in UK universities, especially for academics whose funding is now directly linked to external engagement (at least partially).
IP and ownership concerns are considered by many in Australia as one of the most difficult barriers to university-industry collaboration. How can organisations do better at addressing IP?
It’s good timing for this question, as recently our Head of Growth, Owen Nicholson, was part of the group developing the UK government’s Lambert Toolkit. It was launched last week and comprises a set of contracts for use by university and industry undergoing partnership discussions. The Lambert Toolkit contracts are not set in stone, but provide a great starting place and will certainly speed up that initial discussion when it comes to IP rights. I could see these types of blueprints being used globally. Owen’s insights on the Lambert Toolkit can be found here.
The valuation of early-stage research is, to my mind, an incredibly difficult process. In some sense, this does give a potential industry partner a better stake in negotiations, but they take on larger amounts of risk in doing so. With all things contractual, it’s about negotiation and making sure both parties are comfortable with the arrangement.
Can you share with us any insights into other major global collaboration barriers?
We’re currently working on removing some other barriers, one of which is how companies access worldwide university expertise easily. Currently all I can say is ‘watch this space’, but lest to say we’re looking to further our vision of helping unlock university knowledge.
In your opinion, is there scope for better university-industry partnerships between Australia and the UK?
In our experience there should be no barriers to global collaboration and partnership, however some universities in certain locations have evolved research specialisms in line with their economy, providing cutting-edge developments within particular areas (e.g. renewable energy technology in coastal areas, or agricultural developments in areas surrounded by farmland).
Australia has a great diversity of research, developed by world-leading scientists, and our excitement at working with universities in the country is causative of our audience. Our industry users are forever keen for us to widen our breadth of technology and research available in new territories they’ve previously had little access to. For many in Europe and the U.S., especially SMEs, Australia represents such a territory.
To hear more from Dr Robin Knight about the blueprints to a global collaboration boom, click here.
Dr Robin Knight is Co-founder and Director of UK-based university-industry collaboration platform IN-PART.
Click here to find out more about global collaboration opportunities with IN-PART. To find more industry-ready technology from Australian universities, visit Source IP.
Australia’s foremost nuclear science and technology organisation, ANSTO, is a key player in establishing safe practice in the field throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Recently, the organisation has set its sights on growing the scope of its collaborations in Asia.
In December 2012, ANSTO formed a joint research centre with the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP). The centre focuses on developing materials for extreme environments – in particular, structural nuclear materials for advanced Thorium Molten Salt Reactors. Unlike existing reactors, these next-generation reactors can run on waste fuels and they’re less likely to meltdown.
“The type of science we’re undertaking is changing from fundamental research to research goals leading to real-world applications,” says ANSTO research fellow Dr Massey de los Reyes. “For example, the ANSTO-SINAP Joint Research Centre aims to understand how materials behave in extreme environments: fusion, aerospace, nuclear reactors.”
De los Reyes and colleagues aim to use the knowledge gained in the centre to develop new strategic research partnerships with industry and other organisations, looking at improving existing materials used in thorium reactors or developing entirely new materials for use in extreme environments. “This information could benefit a range of processing and manufacturing industries,” she says.
“The type of science we’re undertaking is changing from fundamental research to research goals leading to real-world applications.”
Eight of ANSTO’s 25 international partnerships have been formed with Asian countries, including Malaysia, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan. These collaborations are opening up exciting new avenues of research. For example, the National Science Council Taiwan funded the SIKA neutron beam instrument currently under construction at the Bragg Institute in Sydney.
In the arena of basic research, ANSTO Principal Research Scientist Dr David Fink is collaborating with Mongolian scientists to study the past behaviour of Mongolia’s extensive glaciated mountains. As glaciers shrink and grow, they leave evidence of their tracks in the form of rock piles known as moraines.
Dr Fink visited the region in 2013 with scientists from Israel’s Hebrew University and the University of Washington, US, to collect rocks from glacially-carved valleys in the Gobi Altai Mountains. To work out how long moraines in different areas of a valley have been exposed since the glacier retreated, Fink uses a technique called cosmogenic in situ surface exposure dating.
Using ANSTO’s accelerator mass spectrometer, the scientists can establish how long the rocks have been exposed and, therefore, the extent of past glaciation. These records fill in gaps in glacially-driven global climate change covering a period from a few thousand years to about 100,000 years ago.
Fink and his colleagues have undertaken similar work in China and central Tibet in collaboration with researchers at the Chinese Academy of Science. “It really has revolutionised the way we can quantify landscapes,” says Fink.