Collaborating with enterprises for research and technology transfer and detecting innovation within CHARM-EU

Light bulb, businessman working with laptop and getting trophy cup. Entrepeneurshio, start up, busines innovation.

An analysis conducted by TORCH involving the five universities highlights the strategies and best practices implemented by universities to collaborate with non-academic actors, and especially enterprises, for research collaboration and how they operate to detect innovation emerging from their research teams.

How do universities associate with non-academic actors for the financing or realisation of research project? How could they enhance more cooperation with private actors in order to answer global societal and environmental challenges through applied research answering to end-users' needs? And what are the best solutions to detect innovation within universities? 

The TORCH partner universities carried out interviews with some researchers, contract and technology transfer offices' colleagues, partner enterprises, industrial doctorates and business developers, to gather their insights on best practices to collaborate with non-academic actors and detect innovation. Through the analysis of universities' policies and strategic documents and data collection through a survey filled in by representatives of the Alliance Universities, TORCH has recently published two reports, one exploring the strategies and ways of collaboration between the universities' researchers and enterprises, for instance through contractual collaboration for research, technology transfer, funding for maturation, industrial doctorates, joint laboratories etc.

The second report introduces the best practices universities implement to detect research with innovative potential at an early stage in order to integrate a valorisation strategy as early and relevant as possible and explores best practices of enterprises in terms of innovation detection.

Business development

In four universities of the CHARM-EU Alliance, business developers support research teams in identifying potential opportunities for research collaboration and technology transfer. Business developers liaise with private actors, businesses, and are working towards making the research offer more visible and accessible to non-academic partners by mapping the research teams' ressources that could be exploited by enterprises.

Tools used by universities to support efficient collaborations with enterprises

One of the strategies used by some of the CHARM-EU Alliance Universities is having an efficient “Customer Relationship Management” tool allowing to follow-up on collaboration with strategic partners. The Alliance Universities have also implemented practical guides and model agreements designed for negotiating research and technology transfer contracts with enterprises.

Competences and service databases such as in Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) are also suitable for various external companies to easily identify the university’s research teams and resources and build partnerships.

Projects and events to boost collaborations between universities and enterprises

To trigger collaborations with enterprises, the universities organise events to reward innovative researchers, recognition being an important incentive to favorise public-private collaborations, as for instance the “Innovation Days” “Innovation Awards” or “Innovative Research(er) Award”.

The Alliance Universities also implement or take part of initiatives and projects, such as :

The program Open Innovation Forum at University of Barcelona aims to trigger public-private collaborations. Opened all year long, this forum allows companies to share innovative challenges to research teams and to organise matchmaking events between enterprises and researchers to find partners of interest.

The program UB Innovation Tickets promotes Research, Development and Innovation project contracts through the creation of new collaborative projects between businesses and institutions and research groups with the SGR grant from the Catalan Government

“Companies on Campus” is a call-for-projects dedicated to developing new partnerships between companies and research laboratories of the University of Montpellier’s five research poles[1]. The goal is to make it easier for company staff to set up directly in the research laboratories. Companies on Campus encompass the arrival of new company employees and leaders of start-up projects benefiting from incubation services. Hosting companies in facilities close to researchers and students for a minimum period of six months is a way to overcome the logistical conditions that may often be a barrier for those types of projects. Being able to work closely with partners on topics of mutual interest is a factor that favours deeper and longer-term partnerships.

The centre for Unusual Collaborations (CUCo) in Utrecht University stimulates and facilitates unusual collaborations between young academics. The centre stimulates out-of-the-box thinking and creates opportunities for collaboration. This leads to unexpected connections across the boundaries of disciplines, driven by social challenges and the curiosity of researchers. Researchers focus on climate change and pollution, inclusion and diversity, health, food and sustainability. They look for solutions that have a large and lasting impact on society.

CHARM-EU emphatically seeks to cooperate with external partners in the business community and in society.

Detection of innovation

Contribution to society is the third mission of universities. University-industry collaborations help bridge the gap between university and society at large. Valorising scientific research by creating added value through access to market and entrepreneurship allow bringing scientific innovations closer to end-users' needs and answer global, sustainable, and societal challenges.

But prior to maturation and valorisation of innovations, how do universities detect innovative projects among all the research conducted by their research teams?

TORCH analysis shows that in all universities, administrative offices such as research support office and contract management offices participate in innovation detection inside universities' research teams and labs. To monitor research being carried out, administrative agents use basic procedures such as communication through mails, calls, formal and informal meetings.

For declaring their inventions and softwares, researchers of the Alliance Universities fill in Invention Disclosure Forms (IDF) and Software Disclosure Forms (SDF) that must be handed to appropriate offices. Thus, researchers are expected to be relatively independent in the self-assessment of their inventions. Administrative agents can raise awareness among researchers on the importance of declaring their innovative research results to then be able to get funding and to valorise them, for instance through patent applications. They can support researchers in properly filling in IDF’s and SDF’s.

As an example of best practice, to facilitate declaration of software, the University of Montpellier has set up an online platform (PLUM - Software platforms University of Montpellier) in which researchers can easily declare the creation of a new software.

In addition to research monitoring and innovation detection procedures and practices, some other initiatives, assignments, and practices can more or less directly support innovation detection within research units and research groups:

  • For instance, supporting researchers in drawing up proposals for calls-for-projects would allow administrative agents to gain preliminary access to research ideas that could potentially lead to future innovations.
  • Offering pre-maturation or maturation funding to researchers can encourage self-assessment of innovation and allow university administrations to be more aware of the research being carried out in research groups, to support open innovation and to encourage potential future innovation. It can enable a closer relationship with researchers and make them more aware of invention disclosure forms, research valorisation and knowledge transfer.

The two-days training “Booster Innovation Montpellier” is a best practice implemented by the University of Montpellier since 2020. The program aims at students, researchers, researchers-lecturers, staff with an innovative or high-potential idea or project in different fields such as health, food, agronomy or agriculture. The training presents different possibilities to valorise scientific research projects (collaboration, transfer, company creation), the tools and the possible financing to support the advancement of the projects. At the end of the Innovation Booster Montpellier, all projects are supported according to the chosen path of valorisation.

Finally, the Alliance Universities associate with non-academic actors to engage in the co-creation processes of advanced knowledge and thus for innovation detection and research collaboration. Universities have developed specific strategies integrated within the ecosystems of innovation outside of academia and within the industry and public sector to support public research, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Benchmarking conducted with TORCH non-academic partners shows that many private actors have an R&D department with scientists and technicians dedicated to research and innovation and extensive internal reporting and administrative procedures system in place to monitor research and software. They believe that state-gating[2] is important to manage complexity. In addition, non-academic actors truly believe in cooperation between different stakeholders, communication, sharing of ideas and knowledge and in building trust in relationship between partners to know they can rely on each other. Thus, non-academic partners underline the importance of networking in innovation scouting, of knowing and having access to multiple and various key actors of innovation. In addition, non-academic actors invest a large percentage of their turnover in R&D, in broadening the knowledge of their employees and in collaborating with external partners. They also set aside some free working time to their scientists for exploration, trying new things, experimenting, which can boost innovation, and they encourage their scientists to meet their peers and go to conferences to encourage sharing of knowledge.

If you want to know more about best practices within the CHARM-EU Alliance and recommendations to improve collaborations between universities and non-academic actors, you can consult the Work Package 5’ reports here : https://www.charm-eu.eu/torch/workpackages.

Learn more about TORCH's analysis with our infographic: 

 

 

 

[1] The UM’s five research poles are : Agriculture, Environment, Biodiversity; Biology-Health; Chemistry; Mathematics, Computer Science, Physics, Systems; Social Science

[2] State-gate is a method developed by Robert G. Cooper and theorized in the 1980s. This method is widely used in many types of companies, which facilitates the management and launch process of a product. It divides each new project into distinct and successive stages, separated by gates, i.e., decisions made during evaluation meetings, which concern the status of the project in terms of costs, risks, quality and team management. Each gate marks the transition to the next stage. Sequential cutting focuses on eliminating errors, organizing the development of a product or project and controlling decisions.