On the 5th of November, we hosted a live Q&A panel webinar with three technology transfer professionals to talk about their best practices to engage researchers with commercialisation and technology transfer. Thomas Schmidt (Southern Denmark University), Iraida Espinosa (Oxford University Innovation) and Travis Woodland (Portland State University) joined us for a discussion about strategies and approaches to generate interest in commercialisation within their academic communities.
In our 2020 annual survey, the technology transfer offices that work with IN-PART identified a need to increase engagement with researchers in order to drive more commercialisation. In this webinar, we discussed some of the tried and tested methods used by our panellists in their universities based in the UK, Europe and the US.
We had a lot of questions submitted from our audience that covered a variety of topics around best practices to engage researchers with commercialisation (more than we could get through!). We’ve summarised the key talking points from the conversation.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your ability to work with academics? Do you see any positives coming out of the changes that you’ve had to make?
The ongoing pandemic is certainly causing a large amount of adjustment to working practices. Some academics remain working from home and earlier this year some laboratories were temporarily closed. Others are working on the frontlines, developing treatments or vaccines and are therefore incredibly busy. Some medical practitioners are on-call round the clock. Therefore it’s been vital for TTOs to adjust the way they communicate with researchers according to how the pandemic has affected their work.
Our panellists commented that in some cases, it’s easier to reach people now they’re working from home rather than busy swapping from lab to office, and that some researchers have found themselves with more time for thinking about commercialisation opportunities.
For our panellists, the pandemic has really highlighted the value of holistic management systems and diligent tracking. It can be as simple as an excel spreadsheet, a searchable database, or even a full CRM programme.But however it’s done, recording the conversations that are ongoing for each project and accurately managing communications with researchers is vital.
Our panellists also commented that they have increased their internal marketing this year, encouraging academics to submit projects who perhaps haven’t thought about it before. An open and approachable TTO office can also become a hub through which researchers can connect with other academic teams to form new cross-disciplinary collaborations.
What’s the best way to approach social sciences and humanities commercialisation?
For social sciences and humanities, the concern of researchers is often about the impact of their research rather than licensing revenue. Our panellists suggest the best approach for engaging social-oriented researchers is to provide ways that they can help widen the impact of their research, possibly by encompassing more social groups, or by rolling out their research to a wider geographical area through external collaboration. The panel also suggests ensuring that any license funding is directly reinvested to support the researchers with further developments to drive growth and further impacts, reducing the need for them to apply for grants.
What are the best ways to manage the expectations of academics moving into the research commercialisation space?
Research commercialisation is definitely not an environment where ‘one size fits all’. A barrier to smooth and rapid technology transfer can often be the different expectations and requirements between academics and technology transfer professionals. Our panellists suggest that mapping out potential avenues for commercialisation can help researchers better understand their options.
The use of market data to demonstrate the need and market fit of a discovery, as well as inform the development of a commercialisation strategy and business plan. Our panellists said that it can help to gather this information from an external, objective industry source to help to maintain trust and positivity between the TTO and academics. If a researcher has submitted a project that may not be a good fit for commercialisation, the panellists recommend opening a discussion with the researcher to look at some of their other lines of research for potential licensing or commercialisation in the future.
The panel also highly recommended testing the temperature of the market as early as possible. For the long journey to commercialisation, this is vital for determining the goals of the work to be done, along with a technology’s applications and benefits.
With academics facing a drive to publish their research, navigating the right time for patenting or publishing can be tricky. By interacting as early as possible in the research process and opening a discussion about potential commercialisation, it is easier to manage the development of the project and reach a compromise with academics in terms of what and when to publish.
What demand-side impacts caused by the pandemic have you experienced?
As the pandemic continues it is likely that further impacts will be seen on industry and changing demand for commercialisation. Our panellists commented that this will vary between different sectors, with a lot of industry R&D currently focussed on treatments and technologies addressing Covid-19 with some unusual collaborations starting up. Other companies have taken a step back from R&D, with more focus on other aspects of business such as sales and customer retention, but as the panellists say, the full impacts are likely not being seen yet as companies continue to stretch their means with the subsequent economic downturn.
What are the best ways to communicate the benefits of research commercialisation to academic researchers?
When discussing the potential benefits of commercialising research or forming industry collaborations, it is essential to keep in mind the capabilities of the research group and how engaged the researcher is with the idea of commercialisation. Whilst it can be product or research-dependent, one approach suggested by our panel is to clarify that industry funding can lead to the generation of new data without needing to compete with colleagues for research grants. Building in commercialisation support at the funding application stage is part of the approach taken by the Northern Accelerator Programme and Durham University. In addition, highlighting that working in collaboration with industry gives a clear insight into its future research direction within a particular field is also a good way to communicate the benefits.
There’s also often a generational difference between the attitudes of early career researchers and senior academics around research commercialisation. Younger researchers are often more aware that commercialisation success comes in different forms and wish to see their research making a positive impact. Supporting entrepreneurship in early career researchers and establishing conversations early are important for onboarding the next generation of researchers with research commercialisation.
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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.
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Blog: ‘IN-PART Webinar: Best practices to engage researchers with commercialisation and tech transfer’
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