Scouting and matchmaking. The key role of professional staff in fostering university-industry collaborations at Ca' Foscari

Erica Brandolino
Ca' Foscari University of Venice

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Giovanna Berera
Ca' Foscari University of Venice

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Samuela Franceschini
Ca' Foscari University of Venice

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Greta Bonetto
Ca' Foscari University of Venice

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During 2016, thanks to the opportunity offered by a call for proposals from the Italian Ministry of Economic Development to improve the capacity building of the Technology Transfer Offices, the University was able to hire high-qualified personnel and create a new office entirely dedicated to the enhancement of research and relations with industry. PInK, this is the acronym of the new Promoting INnovation and Knowledge Office, in just one year, has radically transformed technology transfer of Ca' Foscari.
Until the middle of 2016, the University did not have a real office for technology transfer: these activities were managed, on a part-time basis, by some personnel of the Research Area. The situation was not different from the most part of Italian Academia, where average number of people employed in Italian universities TTOs according to the Netval Survey was still far less than in most of other European countries.
In such conditions, Ca’ Foscari perspective radically changed with the new policy launched by the Rector as part of the 2014-2020 strategic plan, which has led to several initiatives aimed to maximize the impact of research results and support university-industry collaborations. With the revision of internal regulations on industrial property, intensive training for administrative staff and researchers and the systematic implementation of scouting activities for a constantly updated research map, and the development of R&I matchmaking events, PInK has created the conditions to support and promote partnerships with industry. In fact, the interface and interaction with companies for broader collaborations and long term partnerships for innovation, requires understanding and trust both within the Academia and with Partners. Thus, in this paper, we will focus on the importance of human capital for translating and transitioning in university-industry knowledge transfer. The employment of two high-qualified technology transfer managers (KTM) communicating with the researchers for the scouting activities and developing innovative R&I matchmaking events with enterprises and of an Innovation Promoter negotiating and managing IP issues for licensing and partnerships, represented a key factor for rising the above mentioned understanding and trust.
Among the strategic objectives assigned to PINK in the last few years, fostering of partnerships with industry is certainly the most important and in this framework, flexibility is one of the main characters of the actions we develop. The hiring of staff that could talk the same language of our researchers allowed us to map in deep Ca’ Foscari’s competences. With the two KTM and the Innovation Promoter on board, it is now possible to have a constantly updated map of the research developed and of the results achieved, and to set up the policies for engaging companies and exploiting research. And this possible because of the increasing of trust among researchers and administrative staff in PINK’s commitment in giving value to their results and work.
We provide our departments with all the consulting necessary to manage the relationships with industry in all its phases, from the contractual schemes to be used, to, if necessary, the negotiation of IP and confidentiality issues. We also act directly to expand the collaboration with the aim of building interdisciplinary projects that can represent to the company the skills of the University as a whole. The long-term objective is to establish relationships based on research topics of common interest that can lead to the creation of laboratories and joint projects. The engagement with a company that approaches Ca' Foscari for the first time takes place through R&I matchmaking events.
First, we meet the company to try to understand its interests and needs. Once collected, we carry out internal scouting to find out which researchers can respond to the needs of companies. In this phase, we try to widen the range of the project including non-explicitly requested area of research, but that can contribute to the success of the initiative. We ask researchers to provide us with information for the drafting of an executive summary to be submitted to the company.
We then move on to the organization of the event that brings researchers and business to an informal table where they share ideas and projects. The follow up with the company defines the scope of the collaboration and leads to the negotiation phases of the agreements. Typically, the first are small contracts often of a consulting nature, but they allow the mutual understanding and trust for establishing a fair and long-term relationship.
Results and impact:
- Patents: from the end of 2016, 11 new patent application, 7 in 2019. Three patent applications sold and one dismissed. These data are relevant because they refer to a university that has only two scientific departments.
- University policies on intellectual property and confidentiality.
- Training/information: two annual training events dedicated respectively to fellows and doctoral students on the issues of intellectual property management.
- Mapping of competences: about 200 researchers involved.
- Start-ups: 4 new spin-offs, one of which was created to enhance a University patent application.
- IP consulting and supporting in the negotiation of IP clauses in both collaborative and commissioned research agreements:
a) Consultancy for the definition of the IP in CA of funded collaborative projects: about 40 agreements/year managed
b) Support for the negotiation and definition of partnerships and agreements for research (2018: approx. 12 agreements managed directly for a total of € 3.2 million)
c) Support for IP negotiation in strategic agreements (managed agreements for about 5 million euros in 2018)
- New University-Business collaboration models directly managed by PINK: forecast of investments in research in the three-year period 2018-20 for about € 1.200k
- R&I Matchmaking events: average 6-8/year.