ILO: key role supporting innovation in university-industry relations

How to measure impact of proactive support and coordination activities by Industrial Liaison Officers in TTOs bridging the gap between industry and university.

Valeria Carpene
University of Bologna

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Silvia Vecchi
University of Bologna

Rosa Grimaldi
University of Bologna

Background and Objectives
The main objective of this proposal is to map and measure the outcome of the Industrial Liaison Officers activities, in the specific context of the University of Bologna (Italy), within the TTO space and the regional and national industry cooperation environment.
The enhancement of knowledge transfer strategy to bridge the gap between public research institutions/universities and industry, in the era of the innovation economy, has become a fundamental area for national governments and regional authorities policy actions. A wide range of public measures have been implemented across the world, addressing university structures such as Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs) as vital part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
In our case study, the Industrial Partnerships, Communication and Third Mission Division of the University of Bologna has decided to implement the new role of Industrial Liaison Officers as staff dedicated to the relations with strategic businesses and acting as a conjunction between the wide variety of university services/ programs and the external partners requests.
Given the new approach referred to the management of industrial relations in a more comprehensive and partner-based way, an issue was set on the job profile and professional competences of this role. The key features of can be summarized as: ability to establish a trustful relationship with companies reference people, ability to assist the development of the strategic partnership with each company, ability support the strategy and decision-making level and coordinate outcomes deriving from a variety of university units/offices (research, education, student support, TTO). Having diverse university background, often with doctoral education, in many cases with previous working experience in the private sector, they may also be part of the blended professionals as they move their steps within the "third space" environment (as defined by some literature referring to industry liaison officer, innovation officer, knowledge broker) .
This role, conceived as innovative internally, has been welcomed by companies, that, especially if big and structured, have similar roles managing relations with research partners and institutions.
To summarize, the University of Bologna aimed at improving university-industry engagement through this new professional profile, whose role enables an effective connection between the university world and the corporate world, in order to foster new forms of collaboration and to maximise results and satisfaction on both sides.
The main questions addressed by the project is the following: “What is the impact of ILOs activities engaging directly with industry?”; “Does their actions improve the overall return of university-industry engagement in quantitative and qualitative terms?”