Open for Business - Open Innovation Technology Transfer in a Peripheral Region

Gareth Huw Davies
Swansea University

Gerry Ronan
Swansea Innovations

Mike Williams
Swansea University

David Bolton
Swansea University School of Management

This paper provides a case study of AgorIP, an initiative to support technology transfer in a post-industrial region through an Open Access Open Innovation approach. Working in partnership with Welsh Government, industry partners and health system organisations, the approach aims to embrace the concept of smart specialisation (Foray, 2014) to build upon existing regional strengths.

The initiative is intended to help the response to the identified regional need for greater scale of commercialisation activity as noted by Gibson S (2007), in a region that has historically experienced particularly low levels of Business Expenditure on R&D (Edmonds, 2000). AgorIP also sits in the contexts of the emerging Swansea Bay City Region development and wider Welsh innovation ecosystem, providing potential insight for academics, practitioners and policy-makers. This has particular relevance during the current development of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) as noted in the UK Industrial Strategy (BEIS, 2017).

The objectives of the case study are to explore how the initiative relates to its regional context and whether it is progressing in supporting the development of the scale and nature of technology transfer originally envisaged. It expands upon insight from Davies et al. (2015, 2018) utilising the methodology from the latter with bibliographic review and examination of the initiative’s project portfolio. By examining the inputs, outputs and internal dynamics of the initiative it also aims to identify opportunities for further research including longitudinal and comparative studies.

AgorIP presents an implementation of the conceptual technology transfer model with open innovation dynamics described by Bradley et al. (2013), developed from earlier models such as that of Siegel et al. (2004). Building upon pilot phases, AgorIP has aimed to expand technology transfer from a university context to one involving transfer to and from the health sector. Starting from a relatively low base, the work has also emerged in the context of a growing research regional base within academia, health service and industry.

The 234 projects within the project demonstrate a range of sources characteristics and outcomes which aligns with the dynamics of the conceptual model described by Bradley et al. (2013), including its potential for Open Innovation. Engagement across academic disciplines, external organisations including Health Boards and with financiers have shown a range of outcomes including spin-out and licensing. Diversity was also found within both the nature of innovations and innovators, with recognition of how they relate to different support needs.

The study identifies the opportunity to increase the scale and scope of activity through the Open Access Open Innovation approach. Focus on smart specialisations is also showing interactions between sectors in realising opportunities, suggesting a need to look beyond sector/actor-specific interventions. Expansion of the AgorIP approach into further initiatives, by sector, geography and organisation helps ensure that learning from this instantiation will be of value for further development and delivery of efforts is technology transfer.