Best practices for academic engagement: Q&A with Durham University

Right after “what is industry looking for from universities?” and “how do we sign more deals?”, a common question we get from universities using IN-PART is “how can we get academics more interested in tech transfer and commercialisation?”. The work done by technology transfer offices to support academics move their research from the lab to the marketplace can hit an immediate roadblock when the academic community at a university either isn’t aware of or isn’t interested in commercialisation.

With a view to providing some insights for our tech transfer community on how other universities have successfully built an entrepreneurial and commercialisation-focussed atmosphere amongst their researchers, we’ve interviewed one our top universities about their best practices for academic engagement.

In this interview, Jordan Christie, Northern Accelerator Marketing Officer at Durham University, tells us how his team have worked with other universities in the Northeast of England to dramatically improve commercialisation engagement and outcomes across the region.

Durham University is part of the Northern Accelerator programme. Could you tell us more about this programme?

Northern Accelerator is a collaboration between four North East universities to commercialise research and boost the region’s economy. Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria and Sunderland Universities are working together to make a step-change in research commercialisation – ultimately creating more spin-out businesses and licensing opportunities. The number of spin-outs across partner universities has already increased from less than 2 per year prior to Northern Accelerator, to 10 in the 2018-19 academic year alone. 

How have you been building awareness of the support and resources available to academics through Northern Accelerator?

Researchers need to know their technology transfer office is there, however we think there’s a crucial step before that too. Researchers need to have an awareness of, and an appetite for, the concept of commercialisation and entrepreneurship. Through Northern Accelerator’s support model, and particularly our Ideas Impact Hub, we’re working toward a cultural shift across our partner universities. 

When we first set out to develop a training and awareness offer, we quickly recognised it wasn’t as straightforward as developing a ‘one size fits all’ training course. Early career researchers were looking for something different to senior researchers, and researchers at different stages of their career wanted to access training in different ways. Across our partner universities there were also significant differences, especially between research-intensive and teaching-intensive institutions. So we now have a twin-track offer: 

  • ACTION for Impact develops early career researchers’ skills and awareness to engage with commercialisation as a route to impact. The benefits are longer term and will support our pipeline growth. 
  • Future Founders is our training programme for (typically) senior researchers (soon to be) involved in spinout creation. It’s aimed at more immediate benefit as well as achieving Northern Accelerator’s target outputs. 

We’re already finding that our training offer is drawing out people from departments we may not have traditionally engaged with. 

What kind of support does Northern Accelerator offer to academics looking to commercialise their research?

Northern Accelerator provides a toolbox for academics to engage with us early and successfully – whether that’s taking part in one of our training courses or applying for funding to develop a proof-of-concept or undertake a feasibility study. We offer this pre-incorporation funding in funding calls throughout the year and academics must engage with their technology transfer colleagues to complete an application. 

While some people may be keen on the idea of taking an idea right through to licensing or spin-out, others may need more encouragement and at times we need to focus on one step at a time. We tend to look at each project and each academic’s individual needs and develop an honest relationship to work out the best route. 

Do you have any success stories you’d like to highlight?

One great example of where we worked with an academic to take their idea right through to the launch of a growing company is Dr David Weinkove and Magnitude Biosciences. Magnitude Biosciences provides an automated service to find health-span extending drugs faster and more cost-effectively than current approaches.

Dr Weinkove worked with Durham’s technology transfer team and accessed Northern Accelerator’s Executives into Business programme. ‘Execs into Business’ attracts talented business leaders to the innovative commercial opportunities created and developed in the North East’s universities. Recruited as Chief Operating Officer, John O’Brien joined the Magnitude team in early 2018, bringing with him commercial expertise and first-hand knowledge of the investment community.

Since the beginning of 2019, Magnitude has been delivering customer contracts, expanding facilities, and meeting potential customers around the world.


Find more information about the Northern Accelerator programme.

And for more insights about best practices for academic engagement, our webinar on the 5th of November will address the topic through a panel discussion with three leading technology transfer offices.


About IN-PART:

To help get discoveries and breakthroughs out of the lab and onto the market, we’ve simplified the initial connection between academia and industry through two solutions:

IN-PART, a digital partnering platform for university-industry collaboration.

250+ universities and research institutes around the world currently showcase their research and innovation on IN-PART to find new collaboration partners in industry. R&D teams get free access to the platform (create an account here). There are no hidden costs and we don’t claim downstream fees.

Discover, a bespoke scouting service for open innovation.

Through Discover, corporate R&D teams can leverage our extended academic network, which reaches multiple teams across 1,200+ universities and research institutes worldwide. In response to a specific research requirement or challenge, Discover enables R&D teams to identify new opportunities for commercialisation or to solicit proposals for new research.

Interested in speaking with our Discover team? Request a demo |  TTO or academic? Sign-up for weekly Discover updates


IN-PART Blog - Best practices for academic engagement


Copyrights reserved unless otherwise agreed, IN-PART Publishing Ltd., 2020

Blog: ‘Best practices for academic engagement: An Interview with Durham University’

Image credit: Susan Yin / Unsplash (CC0)

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