Good Practice in the Transfer of University Technology to Industry
Universities can be powerful motors for the technological and economical development of industrial branches and regions. Successful examples from Europe and overseas demonstrate the major impact a university can have if its potentials for technology transfer to industry are fully exploited. In order to strengthen the competitiveness of European enterprises, particularly SMEs, the European Commission is seeking to improve the transfer of university technology to industry and therefore has launched an expert study, entitled "Good Practice in the Transfer of University Technology to Industry".
A consortium of experts coming from eleven European Union member states has conducted 13 in-depth case studies at selected universities, which have been particularly successful in transferring university technology to industry. All these case studies describe and analyse the most valuable part of a university's technology transfer system, more specifically its good practices, by identifying the driving forces and underlying causal interdependences that lead to the ultimate technology transfer success of the respective universities. On the basis of these single case study analyses, applicable guidelines and rules have been developed using a meta-analytical approach, for how improvements in any given university's technology transfer system can be made. The guidelines are mainly based on success factors which have been identified and which hold true across the different Good Practice Examples.
The comprehensive results of the expert study are to be found in more detail in the following two documents:
This booklet has been developed in addition to the full reports mentioned above, in order to summarise the most relevant elements. We hope that this booklet, and for further details also our Good Practice Guide and the Case Study Reports, constitute a useful tool for university policy makers on a European or national level, for the university management, for regional development bodies and for university technology transfer practitioners.
Good Practices in transferring university technology to industry
In contrast to the United States, university-industry collaboration has been traditionally weak in Europe. Few vigorous institutional links were fashioned to bridge the world of science and techno-logy and the world of trade and markets. ’Islands’ of academic research unobtrusively co-exist with ’islands’ of industrial activity.
It is not clear whether this is predominantly the fault of the universities, of industry, or of the prevailing economic regime. What is clear is that industry is becoming more science-based and know-ledge-driven, and that collaboration between fundamental researchers in universities and applied researchers in industry is the engine of modern innovativeness and competitiveness.
The problems of modern high-tech industry require the combined expertise and power of many disciplines and a well-functioning transfer of university technology to industry to yield practical results.
1. Organisational Structures
Traditional university structures have not been designed for technology transfer purposes but for research and education only. As a result, there are often organisational constraints which now limit universities' abilities to carry out technology transfer efficiently with industrial companies or to commercialise the results of their research. Various adaptations have to be made in order to enable the university to fulfil pre-requisites for efficient and successful collaborations with industry.
The transformation of an outdated structure into a more modern one often is a very stressful and time-consuming process. Therefore, usually it is much faster and easier to replace an old structure gradually by establishing new entities either internally or adjoined to it. The vast majority of good practice examples in the field of university-industry collaborations actually follow this alternative route: by granting more managerial independence to individuals or small sub-entities within the university, or by placing some of the university's interface structures outside the university system. The main advantage of the latter solution is to partly disconnect university interface structures from the regulations of the university legislation. This allows to keep bureaucracy at a comparatively low level which is very much appreciated by industrial companies.
2. Independent technology transfer organisations
Independent technology transfer organisations, which do not belong to the university but merely work very closely with it, develop an even more explicit business culture. This means that they have the opportunity to design structures freely, which are fully supportive of industry-oriented research and of technology transfer. The distinguishing characteristic of these independent TT-organisations is that they control their own research capacities and thus they are not dependent on the university researchers' performance. They are not only able to market and to administrate technology transfer but actually to deliver what they have promised to their clients themselves. Nevertheless, many of these independent TT-organisations remain in direct interaction with the university, since university researchers are invited to participate in the different kinds of research activities. Thus, they can be seen to be a distinct means for transferring university technology to industry.
3. Technology transfer managers
One of the most important key-elements in the management of university-industry collaborations is whether or not there are people qualified to manage technology transfer efficiently. The functions and roles of such technology transfer managers are multiple, including for example the following:
It is crucial for the university management to engage people with such potential and give them responsibilty within the technology transfer programme of the university. This task is all the more difficult because specific training programmes for educating technology transfer managers are not yet available. The dilemma for the university consists of engaging either scientists who usually lack experience in management, or in taking on people with a business background and trying to train them in technology. Consequently, a good practice in compensating for the existing lack of specially trained technology transfer managers consists of appointing persons who have some experience in both areas - university and industry.
Some of the most successful technology transfer programmes are invariably initiated and taken care of by senior researchers who both excel academically in their specialist discipline and have solid industrial experience or have even held senior positions in related industries.
4. Portfolio of different technology transfer services
The prime requirement for an effective university technology transfer system is a well-designed 'bundle' or portfolio of different technology transfer services. A well-designed technology transfer portfolio does not only consist of a certain number of single offers, but provides a wide range of different highly-related services, which offer solutions to different kinds of problems all of which industrial companies have to overcome.
Furthermore, a good technology transfer portfolio should also allow for a progressively intensifying chain of technological collaboration activities: the success of one technology transfer project should be the basis for the next, possibly more ambitious one with the same industrial partner.
The well-designed portfolio of technology transfer should firstly help to market the university to potential partner companies and then provide the necessary impetus for the establishment of long-term relationships.
From the analyses of particularly successful technology transfer offers (portfolios), four more characteristics could be identified to be of major importance for such a portfolio's success:
The technology transfer offer of a university must demonstrate a real awareness of companies' needs in order to be able to satisfy them fully. In this sense, a current technical problem within a company is the ideal starting point for a technology transfer project. In comparison to this, it is by far less effective to search for possible applications for new research results, because this would mean that needs would be created rather than that needs which already exist are being answered. Main methods for technology transfer should involve the identification of questions and then a search for answers and not the other way round.
Different types of companies as well as different development stages in the working relationship between a company and the university require different types of projects. Therefore, the university should be able to respond to a broad variety of requests, in order to ensure that many different companies can find a service corresponding to their particular expectations and specific needs. In order to achieve this objective, the technology transfer offer should cover different technological fields and provide various industrial applications and the university should ensure multi-disciplinarity in its technology transfer offer.
A critical point of a technology transfer offer by a university consists of providing efficient "entry gates" for industrial companies. Industrial companies should find different kinds of services both rapidly and easily which correspond to their expectations. This includes being able to get into contact with the responsible contact persons for the respective services. Therefore, universities should present their offers in a form which is understandable for industrial companies. Moreover, a central contact point, such as in most universities the Industrial Liaison Office (ILOs), should be available for directing industrial companies towards the expertise which they need from within the university.
The university should pay particularly attention to limiting its costs in order to be able to offer cost-efficient technology transfer services. For most companies, price plays a major role when deciding on external support services. Under no circumstances does this mean that a university should offer services completely free of charge or significantly below the usual rate of other professional service providers. Instead of undercutting professional rates, the offer of complementary services can arise out of collaborations between the university and other service providers.
5. Active marketing approach
A well elaborated technology transfer offer alone is insufficient to attract industrial companies and to lead to technology transfer success. The university's offer has to become known and appreciated by industrial companies in order to find suitable companies for technology transfer projects.
On a global level, the university's reputation in industry has to be considered as a major factor in technology transfer activities. Especially the establishment of new contacts will be facilitated by a good reputation. Furthermore, there can be a "snowball effect" of success stories which the university has been able to achieve in technology transfer projects. Within the respective branch of industry such success stories may rapidly spread out on a regional, or in some cases even on a national or international scale and therefore may gain the attention of additional potential collaboration clients.
In order to stimulate its technology transfer generally, a university should engage in a variety of marketing channels. There is not a single best marketing activity which the university should focus on, but it should try to apply a broad "marketing mix" of different kinds of activities. In doing so, it is very important to focus on marketing activities within the right target group: industrial decision makers.
For any specific technology transfer project, first of all, it is necessary to establish direct contacts with potential industrial partners. These first contacts can for instance be established by offering a large variety of so-called "entry services". Entry services are university activities which provide easy access into the research institution for potential new partner companies. The common characteristic of these entry services is that they offer a certain value to the companies, but generally consist of low cost - low risk activities. Thus they can be launched without requiring major decision processes from the company management. Even for smaller companies, the entry services should provide good opportunities to "test" collaboration with a university.
Generally, there are various entry services with which a university can attract industrial companies for a collaboration. The entry services listed hereafter have all proven their efficiency in offering an opportunity for establishing initial contacts:
A particularly interesting mechanism for approaching SMEs to become involved in technology transfer projects consists of working the supply chain backwards from larger companies who are already research partners of the university. These companies usually appreciate innovations made in the supplier company which lead directly to improvements in their own products. The suppliers of these larger companies, in most cases SMEs, seek to strengthen their business relationships with customers by offering them innovative components or by following them in their innovation process. Therefore, they can easily be enlisted for projects aiming to significantly improve their technological standing.
6. Relationship management
Within any technology transfer collaboration, emphasis needs to be placed on the importance of good working relationships between university and industrial companies. The study confirmed that long-term relationships are much more effective for transferring university technology to industry than singular technology transfer projects.
Developing a good working relationship is usually a slow process. It may be helpful to start with minor projects in which little trust is required and little risk is involved and in which both partners can prove their trustworthiness. Later when the relationship has developed some stability, it can be expanded much more easily for engagement in more major projects.
The university must be aware that good results in an initial project are essential for convincing the industrial partner to continue the working relationship and to go beyond the first project. If the university can satisfy the industrial client in an initial project - even a very small one - the company may start to accept the university fully as a reliable partner and may later come back and ask for further services.
The university should continously invest in the development of its relationships even if the return on such investments can not always be expected immediately. However, the following reasons underline why in most cases such investments will be fruitful on a long-term basis:
Follow-up projects with partners who are already well-known can be set up much more easily because the initial phase of the establishment of the relationship does not have to be repeated. This allows time and money to be saved in comparison with the establishment of unrelated techno-logy transfer projects.
A working relationship with various common experiences fosters the mutual knowledge of both partners. It allows the university to gain more of an understanding about the needs of the company. On the other hand, the company develops a much more realistic view of what the university can offer. This mutual knowledge makes the identification of common points of interest much more efficient and allows new possibilities to be identified already at a much earlier stage of development.
Within a successful working relationship, the industrial partner may volunteer to act as a point of reference or multiplicator for the university's technology transfer marketing. This could allow the university to make additional contacts with potential industrial partners without major marketing efforts.
7. Technology transfer to SMEs
The university should be aware that companies' needs and capacities in terms of technology transfer vary considerably according to the type of the company. The relationships of universities with large firms in research-intensive sectors stand in sharp contrast to those with SMEs in traditional areas of industrial activity. The objectives of such relationships and the functions which the academic institutions should offer to perform for the industrial partner must also be adapted accordingly. Particularly in the case of SMEs, universities should offer technology transfer projects as well as other related services which are directly applicable in any specific company's context. In most cases, SMEs do not approach a university to find a special technology or research result but to obtain manageable solutions for their current technical problems.
Another critical point for SMEs is the minimum budget for a collaborative project. Comparing the different good practice examples reveals the finding that only those universities who are willing to carry out small projects are particularly successful in collaborating with SMEs. Such small projects, however, do not seem to be particularly valuable for a university, especially if they do not even cover their costs which is a rather common problem with SME projects.
Several solutions for handling such low budget projects more efficiently have been identified in the study:
8. Financial support programmes
Public financial support programmes are of great importance for university-industry technology transfer. This is particularly true for the stimulation of technology transfer to some less advantaged companies, e.g. many SMEs.
The sole existence of public support programmes does not yet guarantee that a positive impact on university-industry technology transfer will occur. Surely, it is of major importance that a particular programme supports such technology transfer measures which correspond directly to industrial needs. Effectiveness is also dependent on how well a given programme interacts with other initiatives in order to achieve synergy effects or even leverage effects in support of technology transfer. Furthermore, in most cases, these programmes can only be of overall success, if the programme is designed effectively, ensuring that all of the specific constraints of the parties involved are considered and that the programme is managed efficiently. In particular, the following two types of programme have been able to make major contributions to technology transfer success:
The study showed that all programmes which actually bring representatives from university and industry together contribute significantly to technology transfer success. In this context, a special feature of personnel exchange programmes is worth mentioning: industrial PhD-programmes. These programmes are currently operational in a number of European countries and are showing promising signs of success.
Usually, technology transfer is not only a purely technical process. Very often, the implementation of new technologies requires major change in the organisational structure of a company in order to function properly. Leaving companies alone with these organisational problems may lead to failures in many cases. Public support programmes can help greatly by providing assistance services which complement purely technical technology transfer services in an appropriate way.
9. University spin-offs
Particularly with revolutionary new technologies, it is often difficult to find an interested industrial partner. The best possibility for transferring these university technologies to industry may then consist of the foundation of new technology based firms. Such development of new technology based firms out of universities works best if purposeful encouragement and well-designed support measures are available to interested researchers.
Apart from mechanisms which create more awareness among university researchers for the possibility of founding technology based companies, supportive risk reduction measures can contribute greatly to reaching a significant level of new ventures. Such measures could be for example, that the university offers part-time contracts for researchers interested in founding a spin-off company or even provides a "leave of absence" scheme which guarantees the researcher the return to his former position should the spin-off idea fail.
Furthermore, the university could offer practical help, in the preparation of the venture, e.g. by evaluating the feasibility of the project or by setting up the business plan, and then in its foundation, e.g. by offering specific training programmes especially in the field of management and marketing.
As a complement to specific training programmes for future company managers, "consulting days" which allow existing spin-offs to discuss all kind of different pressing problems with experienced business consultants can be an effective measure for supporting new ventures. The same can be said of the appointment of experienced business managers as mentors for the new ventures.
Clubs and networking activities are another opportunity for new entrepreneurs to get used to their new business environment. Activities aiming to bring new entrepreneurs together for an exchange of experience are undoubtedly useful.
It is worth noticing that in general the foundation of spin-offs is highly independent of other techno-logy transfer activities of a university. This means that even if a university does not provide any (other) technology transfer services, it is possible to support the foundation of spin-offs effectively.
Appendix 1: Summary of the case studies
The basis for this study consitutes a selection of 13 European universities in 11 countries which have been particularly successful in transferring their technology to industry. The main goal of our selection was to ensure a coverage of the most important technology transfer features. We were looking for a heterogenous sample of Good Practice Examples that offers a variety of solutions for some of the most relevant technology transfer problems. All Good Practice Examples are documented in the form of case study reports in the document Case Study Compilation, which can be summarised as follows:
The "Institut National des Sciences Appliquées de Lyon" (INSA Lyon) is one of the biggest "Grandes Ecoles" in France and maintains various relationships with industrial companies, especially with regional SMEs. The case study shows how these relationships are managed either through direct interaction between the company and the respective research institute or through intermediaries as e.g. the private subsidiary of INSA, Insavalor, or specialised engineering companies.
The Industrial Automation Department DISAM of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid makes a wide range of new technology developments and applications available for industrial companies. The case study describes different approaches of DISAM for establishing contacts with industrial companies efficiently. Moreover, the case illustrates how a centralised industrial liaison office and public support programmes can facilitate collaborative projects.
The Institute for Machine Tool and Production Science of the University of Karlsruhe bridges the gap between research and industrial applications very efficiently by means of a variety of technology transfer projects with industry. The case study descibes efficient ways to establish first contacts with industry and underlines among other aspects the importance of a professional and industry-like management for technology transfer activities. Furthermore, an innovative approach to continuing professional education for engineers, recently developed by the institute, is described.
The Institute of Chemical Processes of the University of Thessaloniki has been able to overcome a rigid university system, being in general a major barrier for technology transfer in some of the less favoured regions, by creating a new structure with some independence from the university. This structure, an independent research foundation, comprises several research institutes from different universities and has reached technology transfer success even in a less favourable environment. Furthermore, this case study provides interesting findings as to how the human element contributes to technology transfer success.
The Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) of the University of Warwick surely is one of the most comprehensive examples of good practice in the transfer of university technology to industry. The case study analyses the portfolio of post-experience education offered by WMG to support the human resource development in its partner companies. It investigates technology centres created as joint ventures between WMG and some major industrial companies as organisational form of collaborative technology transfer. Moreover, the case study provides further insights for how to successfully run a technology transfer programme which has been directed towards the specific needs of SMEs.
The Trinity College Dublin (TCD) adopted a strategy for hosting Campus Industrial Laboratories in order to enhance the interaction between the university and industry. This measure is to be seen in the context of new, more entrepreneurial strategy promoted by the management of TCD according to considerable pressure from the government. The case study describes the change process of TCD from a purely academic institution towards a research partner for industrial companies.
The Catholic University of Leuven has set up and currently pursues a research policy which clearly determines the position of industrial research projects within the various other functions of a traditional university. One part of the university strategy is the non-profit organisation Leuven R&D, an autonomous entity which constitutes the interface between the university and industry. The case study describes the role, the organisation and the different activities of Leuven R&D in the technology transfer programme of the university.
The Microelektronic Centret (MIC) of the Technical University of Denmark is an independent public research and development centre. Apart from a professional management the centre posseses the latest microelectronic processing facilities which attract various industrial companies for collaborative projects. The case study illustrates the way in which the different well-designed technology transfer programmes lead to success for the participating companies. The main feature in all programmes consists of bringing people from research and industry physically together for a certain period of time.
The Inter-University Micro-Electronics Centre (I.M.E.C.) is a research centre which was founded in 1984 by the Flemish government. Today, I.M.E.C. is the largest independent research centre in Europe in the field of micro-electronics. The centre has its own structure and strategy but co-ordinates its activities with the Electronic Engineering Departments of all Flemish universities by means of close co-operation. The technology transfer activities of I.M.E.C. which are directed towards industrial companies range from information exchange, training programmes, contract research in the form of specialised residentship and affiliation programmes for industrial companies to complete licensing agreements.
This case study examines the support of New Technology-Based Firms (NTBFs) at the University of Linköping as one mode of transferring university technology to industry. The local association of small technology-based firms SMIL and the centre for innovation and entrepreneurship at the Linköping University CIE offer several inter-related activities to NTBFs such as for instance entrepreneurship and business development programmes, management groups and club/networking activities.
The Spinno programme is a new business incubator programme which combines the resources of several universities and public research institutions in the Helsinki metropolitan region. The participation of several organisations in the Spinno programme ensures on the one hand the multi-disciplinary character of the initiative, and on the other hand a critical mass of firms due to a steady flow new ventures. After a highly selective evaluation and selection process, the spinno-ventures can profit from a variety of different support services, such as e.g. information services, training programmes, industrial mentor programme, venture capital.
This case study describes the private non-profit organisation Consortio Padova Ricerche (PDR) which was founded in 1987 by the University of Padova in close conjunction with several other regional bodies, in order to overcome the constraints faced by the university and to enhance its interaction with industry. The interface structure PDR allowed for developing a variety of different technology transfer services efficiently, which then lead to numerous co-operations with regional industrial companies.
The Steinbeis Foundation provides an organisational framework for technology transfer activities for research institutes hosted by a higher education institution. Today, the non-profit organisation Steinbeis comprises a network of 220 reserach institutes, so-called Steinbeis Transfer Centres, located mainly in the Land Baden-Württemberg. These Transfer Centres have the opportunity to carry out technology transfer projects with industry in an independant manner. The case study illustrates among other points how small and medium sized companies can be reached more effectively for technology transfer projects by putting forward the "brand name" Steinbeis.
Appendix 2: Contents of the "Good Practice Guide"
This booklet summarises some of the features discussed more comprehensively in the Good Practice Guide. For a more in-depth discussion of these features or for further details, please refer to this Good Practice Guide, which you can receive from the European Commission, DG XIII / D4.
Good Practice Guide for transferring university technology to industry more efficiently
Chapter 1: Contextual influences on university-industry TT
Chapter 2: Opening and preparing the university for TT
Chapter 3: Successfully conducting university-industry TT
Chapter 4: Efficiently supporting university-industry TT
|Last Updated: 30-01-2002|