Although knowledge itself is good, it is even better when applied to help solve the great challenges facing our societies. Many elements must come together for research to have a lasting impact on society.
Science is full of questions, but also of answers. For example, decades of meticulous research have allowed multiple vaccines to be rolled out at an unprecedented rate during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Science has also provided evidence on public behaviors and practical measures that reduce the spread of the virus – such as good ventilation and the design and use of face coverings to help reduce contagion factors.
In 2020, research and development expenditure in EU countries amounted to €311 billion. The knowledge generated in Europe should benefit European citizens and beyond. While it is up to scientists to generate this knowledge, others can help disseminate it in society, notes Christophe Haunold, head of knowledge and technology transfer at the University of Luxembourg.
It’s about how we use that knowledge. “It’s valuation,” Haunold said.
Knowledge valorization is defined as the process of creating value from knowledge by linking different fields and sectors. It transforms research data and results into sustainable products and solutions that benefit society. It enhances economic prosperity, environmental benefits, social progress and policy development.
“We want research results to have an impact on society,” said Jurgen Joossens, head of the Valorization Office (TTO) at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. His university focuses on valorization in three areas: infectious diseases and environmental health, smart city and sustainable chemistry and materials.
The office has established links with the port of Antwerp, a major petrochemical site in Europe. Rather than letting researchers decide how their results can be used by industry (a push approach), the Antwerp unit also focuses on what society wants – the so-called “reverse approach”. “.
For example, in 2016, Professor Maarten Weyn developed a telemetric badge capable of locating a person in a chemical plant and alerting controllers in the event of a fall or accident. But industry and unions have anticipated privacy issues in tracking employees in this way.
Following a series of consultations with the chemical industry in Antwerp, Weyn redesigned the badge into a sensor that measures the position, temperature and vibration of valves in chemical plants.
One company – Aloxy – has taken the professor’s technology forward and released it in on-site trials in Europe, the United States and the Middle East. “Because he was open and responsive to their needs, he was able to reform the technology and solve a problem he was unaware of,” says Joossens.
European recovery week
Co-organised by EU Member States and the European Commission, European Knowledge Building Week will take place from 29 March to 1 April 2022. It will bring together and share expertise from experts and stakeholders from all over Europe. ‘Europe. It will showcase the best examples of policies and tools that enhance investments, capacities, and skills for rapid progress in adopting research-based solutions. Stakeholders helped shape the program by sharing their best practices.
Haunold will lead a session that will examine how to finance inventions and business ideas during the proof of concept phase. This is after the research phase, but before anything has been demonstrated at a level where a company is ready to get involved.
Turning fundamental scientific discoveries into a product or service is often a major sticking point. Because scientists usually don’t have the skills or the time to devote to this article, because they’re busy doing what they’re best at: research.
“What we expect from scientists is to be very good scientists,” Haunold said. “But there may be a wide range of skills that they don’t have but that we can help them with.”
This is when entrepreneurs and scientists can draw on the knowledge contained in Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs). These offices support the commercialization of research. Technology transfer offices help researchers communicate about their projects, file patents, and participate in negotiations about technology transfer and the use of intellectual property.
Starting a new business to exploit an idea is not always feasible. Sometimes academic organizations partner with commercial and public partners. TTOs can help organize the licensing of discovery to existing companies. This can generate revenue from new products or services.
“If a researcher is interacting with a company, they won’t have to bear all the burden of negotiations with parties of that company, such as legal or intellectual property issues,” Haunold said.
A success story from Luxembourg concerns Dr Tahereh Pazouki, who created a tool for teaching mathematics to children when she was a doctoral student. It targeted a diverse linguistic community, with several languages in everyday use.
“In Luxembourg we have many languages and many cultures,” said Haunold. “She has developed a tool that allows children to learn math without the basic language.”
She received proof of concept funding, and the knowledge transfer office negotiated and provided all intellectual property rights.
His company, Magrid, now sells the tool worldwide. It is suitable for migrant children who do not master the language of instruction or for children with special needs, such as those with autism, dyslexia or hearing or speech difficulties.
Advice on entrepreneurship will be shared during the session entitled “Translate the vision into action”. Ivan Štefanić, a professor at Josip Juraj Strossmayer University of Osijek in Croatia, runs an educational program called Be the Role Model that entrepreneurship researchers may find very useful. The session takes place on March 30, 2022.
Fostering an entrepreneurial environment means fostering a positive culture and mindset, not just technical skills. “When you’re surrounded by people complaining about everything, you also start complaining,” Štefanić said.
“If you see people making changes, making bold moves and achieving something,” he said, “that might put you on the right track.”
He himself established a business development center in Croatia in 2002, but instead of waiting for people to walk through the door, he developed the Be the Role Model program.
Sometimes you need the opinion of citizens in real situations to see if an innovation will work. In Finland, a Living Lab for Food and Sustainability has been set up on the campus of the Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK).
Mikael Lindell, who leads the FUSSILI project on urban food systems, reveals that in April the university cafeteria will serve experimental recipes using ingredients that benefit the planet. He follows the EAT-Lancet Diet which targets healthy eating and sustainable food production.
The project aims to reduce the meat content and include more local products in its recipes. A large local food manufacturer is involved while, most importantly, staff and students on campus will be able to provide feedback on their sustainable lunch.
In the Netherlands, Dr Linda van de Burgwal is director of a demonstration laboratory at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. She herself is a serial entrepreneur who has created several businesses. “We have set up a risk-free environment,” she said. “We see it as learning by doing.”
Those who sign up must pitch a business idea and then work on it, with regular progress checks. Mentoring is an essential element.
“After five years, we have had 100 projects, and 20 have registered with the [local] chamber of commerce,” van de Burgwal said.
Ideas have included respiratory sensors for early detection of livestock disease, a virtual human rights lawyer and more ergonomic furniture for children.
She points out that entrepreneurship does not only help when setting up your own business. It “gives a set of problem-solving skills that are invaluable no matter what role you’re in,” she said. “Entrepreneurship creates something of value, and these skills are relevant across industries,” van de Burgwal said.
Valorisation does not always refer to the transformation of knowledge into products and services. It also involves informing policy changes, improving processes, or educating the general public.
The transfer and validation of knowledge requires many skills. “We need multidisciplinary teams,” says Joossens, “because sometimes we forget that it’s not just about technology, but also about implementing technology.” This requires a complex milieu of expertise, to support knowledge creators and ensure impact.
“There is also society involved, there are processes, rules, laws that are involved,” he said.
Businesses can fail for financial reasons, and sound advice for potential entrepreneurs is essential.
Štefanić says those starting businesses should create an IP plan at an early stage. “Often entrepreneurs only do this when they are unknowingly infringing on someone’s intellectual property or someone is copying them,” he said. “It’s a very reactive approach.”
He believes that Europe can also attract talent from the rest of the world by creating an enabling environment for entrepreneurs. “We can attract people from other places and help them achieve what they couldn’t do locally,” he said. “So it’s also about developing successful businesses and making Europe an attractive destination,” he said.
Knowledge Valorization Week is an opportunity to raise awareness and take stock of ongoing work on updating EU guidance for better knowledge valorization. There is a European knowledge transfer platform to share best practices, knowledge and expertise. It includes a repository of best practices, to which stakeholders can submit their examples at any time.
The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally publishedin Skylinethe European magazine for research and innovation.