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Business and Innovation News

Wednesday, 22 March 2023

Innovation offices need engineers and entrepreneurs

by Virginia Greco

Dr Pablo Pomposiello Miravent, Head of the ICN2's Business and Innovation Area, makes a point about the limitations of knowledge and technology transfer offices of public institutes that limit their potential and can slow down the signing of collaborative agreements with industry.

Innovation at the public-private interface is under-exploited, with the vast majority of technical innovation happening within the silos of private companies. Public-private innovation by technology transfer can accelerate the development of technology into products, while generating resources for science, and is recognized as a promising field to combine and potentiate both private and public sectors.

Europe is now recognizing the potential of innovation sourced from public research, putting their (our) money where their speeches are. The creation of the European Innovation Council has been a significant step towards reinforcing commercial development of inventions. Moreover, venture capitalists have created the concept of “science equity”, a new asset class that aims at reaping rewards from early investment in science projects with high commercial potential. Finally, the number of sovereign venture funds is increasing and extending through Europe.

In this growing environment, public innovation officers should identify bottlenecks in the technology transfer process. After 20 years in the innovation field, I recognize that one of the limiting factors in the public science & technology sector that is seldom mentioned is the insufficient business professionalization of knowledge in knowledge and technology transfer offices (KTTOs). In Spain at least, KTTOs are typically populated with lawyers and program managers who frequently concentrate on compliance and risk. While these capabilities are sufficient for a reactive management of innovation initiatives, a proactive approach requires different and complementary professionals who can concentrate on upside and benefit. A lack of experience in the private sector results frequently in a limited ability to see the corporate’s point of view, and thus, many deals die on the negotiation table or languish, unresolved. Conversely, experience in the private sector provides KTTO officers with insights into the large effort needed for industrialization of the technology they are licensing. This insight streamlines negotiations, facilitates the public-private dialogue, and eventually increases success rate. Thus, innovation teams in public research institutions should be fortified with product engineers, entrepreneurs and recruits from the corporate world, who understand the challenges faced and efforts needed to industrialize a prototype, and then actually sell a product.

In order to serve society better, we (the public sector) need to find better and faster roads to closing deals, and while we tend to blame bureaucracy, a limiting factor is the lack of real business experience in our own ranks. Public research institutions should consider building up their innovation teams by recruiting from the entrepreneurs and product engineers pool, in addition to legal and project managing. We at ICN2 have explored that strategy with good results and would love to compare notes with other KTT professionals.