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