Navigating the EU for partnership opportunities

Saturday, September 30, 2017 - 08:00

Navigating the EU for partnership opportunities

Universities have sometimes been accused of being ivory towers, isolated from and ignorant of the practicalities of the real world. Indeed, the development of truly new ideas does, as any innovative company knows, require some isolation and free thinking, However, such self-imposed isolation is far from being the case, and in fact, modern universities are highly networked organisations. A typical university professor or lecturer, while teaching students from a host of different countries, will also be directing several research collaborations, with several international partners, as well as linking to companies across the world.

This broad connectivity makes universities hotbeds of international collaborations and networks, and is something that private organisations and businesses can capitalise on.  And of course this is all encouraged, supported and potentially funded by our national organisations such as EI, SFI and the IDA, while also being funded under the European Commission programmes. In fact, a whole suite of recent developments in national policies and associated state supported research funding represent significant opportunities for companies to leverage a broad range of supports from universities.

While we have become accustomed to being part of network groups and are connected, via various social and professional platforms, to several hundred people across the world, we still very often default to talking to the same people again and again, simply because our networks remain limited.  Ceux qui se ressemblent, s’assemblent, that is, “birds of a feather flock together”, because its more comfortable and easier to do so. Moreover, we have a real bias toward English-speaking countries and are often daunted by the thought of navigating European countries. The result is that we focus mainly on the UK and the US and forget that the EU market is the same size as that of the US.

Meanwhile, it is well established that the science and technology developed at EU research institutes is of the very highest standard, but we are not as efficient at bringing that technology to market. This represents a missed opportunity, which the European Commission is keen to fix, by supporting the commercialisation of new research and supporting collaborations between research institutions and companies. Thus, European universities can often be useful entry points to either finding new technology that can become the next set of products, or developing partnerships that can lead to new opportunities in technology development or in new market opportunities.

Maynooth University will host a Knowledge Transfer event in October that will outline exactly how companies can navigate this EU wide system to optimise their benefits. Participants will learn about partnership and investment opportunities from a host of international groups that they don’t normally get to hear from. Participants will learn about how these countries and regions work, culture, economic development and the science and technologies they are developing.

As well as research collaboration, companies can also avail of consultancy services across broad sectors of expertise and avail of state-of-art services and facilities. The growing desire of universities to support national and EU policy and engage with companies and to help them develop and commercialise new ideas has resulted in significant changes in the profiles and activities of Irish universities. This translates as an opportunity for companies willing and able to engage with the sector. Making this as easy as possible for companies is the key to encouraging and growing such collaboration. Similar changes have occurred across Europe and all universities are keen to develop partnerships with industry.

In Ireland, the National Intellectual Property Protocol published in 2012 outlines the rules of engagement for intellectual property ownership and exploitation, with clear favourable terms for industry. Innovation 2020, published in 2015, continues the trend, outlining a clear vision for research and innovation led economic growth. Finally, the creation of Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI) adds a very significant focal point and a tool for utilising the system. KTI not only lists available expertise at all Irish Universities, includes a list of “how-to” guidelines and a set of model IP agreements, but also funds and collates information from the combined state funded innovation engine at Universities.  

The bottom line is that companies can receive substantial benefits from engaging with our national system and our EU partners. Such engagement has multiple forms, all coming under the banner of Knowledge Transfer, which summarises the key goal – knowledge generated by state funding should be transferred outward for social and economic benefits. Research collaboration, consultancy, use of facilities and equipment, engagement with the undergraduate and postgraduate student pool all provide opportunities for companies at vary stages of development and growth.

John Scanlan
​Maynooth University Commercialisation Office Director