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Promoting the exploitation of scientific knowledge through academia–industry cooperation in the Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy in Europe and beyond

Final Report Summary - KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION (Promoting the exploitation of scientific knowledge through academia-industry cooperation in the Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy in Europe and beyond)

Executive summary:

KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION has been a 39-month project aiming to stimulate and support the knowledge transfer process in the wider agro-food sector. The project has developed tools and training material, having primarily in mind academia researchers and employees of small- or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with limited or moderate experience in knowledge transfer as potential users.

The elements of the KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION toolkit included:

(a) a communication tool which can assist researchers into formulating information on their specific know-how in the most effective way for a number of (pre-defined) target audiences; the communication tool is accompanied by a guide on using communication throughout the knowledge transfer process;
(b) a tool for the evaluation of the potential of knowledge, primarily intended to be used by SMEs wanting to perform an initial evaluation or comparison of innovative projects or technologies or, in general, proposals involving knowledge transfer; the tool produces a numerical outcome but can also be used as an evaluation checklist;
(c) a tool for the ex post evaluation of the knowledge transfer process, enabling all parties involved in a knowledge transfer process to learn from experience.

In addition to those, the project compiled a database of instruments for the support of knowledge transfer. All tools have been refined via focus group sessions where researchers and people from SMEs or knowledge transfer organisations from various countries participated. Taking into account the diversity of stakeholders and needs, the project partners have deployed those tools in specific knowledge-transfer instances (of varying maturity).

Furthermore, KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION has developed training material covering the following topics:

(a) the application of quality-management practices in research organisations;
(b) the importance of the proof-of-concept stage as a knowledge marketing tool;
(c) intellectual property protection as an exploitation strategy for research organisations;
(d) evaluating the application potential of knowledge.

The training material has been presented in 40 workshops across the countries represented in the project.

The partners of KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION have engaged into cooperation with other similar-minded projects or networks, including major ones such as the Enterprise Europe Network, ensuring an additional, yet important, route for the effective dissemination of the project outcomes.

KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION has been implemented by a consortium of 9 partners from Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, Hungary and the United Kingdom.

Project context and objectives:

KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION aims to stimulate and support the knowledge transfer process between academia and industry in Europe and beyond. The project involves a consortium of 9 participants, experienced in knowledge transfer with complementary skills, covering 8 European Union (EU) countries.

During its lifetime and through its activities, KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION has focused on the needs of the researchers and SMEs in the agriculture, food and forestry sectors. However, due to the generic approach to the challenges of knowledge transfer, the results of the project are expected to be of value to other sectors, too, especially those that exhibit 'traditional' characteristics.

The main objectives of the project are:

(a) the production of training material that will be addressing know-how gaps of researchers or SMEs with relevance to the knowledge transfer processes;
(b) the production of a range of practical tools for the simplification and facilitation of knowledge transfer and industry-academia cooperation, in general, tailored with the needs of the target audiences in mind;
(c) the testing and dissemination of the above mentioned products towards the target audiences of researchers and SMEs via both direct and indirect routes.

Project results:

Altogether, KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION has led to the production of 23 deliverables. The main outputs, all of them with relevance to the project objectives and the needs of the project target audiences are:

Preparatory study:
Synthetic report on the weaknesses in the research organisation - SME cooperation for knowledge transfer (D1.4)
- Toolkit for knowledge transfer: It has been developed by the consortium partners, taking into account state-of-the-art and current trends and has been refined, at a second stage, via a series of focus group sessions. The focus group panel members included representatives of research organisations and enterprises or knowledge-transfer experts from all countries covered by the consortium, as well as non-EU countries. The individual tools of the toolkit are:

(i) database of funding opportunities that can support knowledge transfer (D2.1);
(ii) communication tool to promote exploitable knowledge (D2.2);
(iii) knowledge-potential evaluation tool (D2.3);
(iv) knowledge transfer follow-up tool (D2.4).

- Training material: All training material (with the exception of the guidelines for knowledge transfer trainers) has been validated through a series of 3 pilot workshops, where attendees were feedback from participants was taken into consideration in finalising the various training sets. The majority of the training material is in PowerPoint slides accompanied with speaker notes, where needed, which clarify the contents of the slides and / or provide guidance on side topics that can be mentioned. The training material includes the following sets:

(i) training set on quality management systems for research organisations (D3.1);
(ii) training set on the importance of the proof-of-concept stage (D3.2);
(iii) training set on intellectual property protection (D3.3);
(iv) training set on evaluating the application potential of knowledge (D3.4);
(v) guidelines for knowledge transfer trainers (D3.5).

In order to perform the work foreseen in the project, a number of intermediate deliverables have been also produced, which will not be described herein. Also, a number of dissemination and deployment activities took place in order to capitalise on the work done and maximise the project impact. Those activities have been described in following deliverables, which will not be described in this part of the report:

- Further dissemination and deployment:
(i) a cumulative report on the workshops for research organisations and SMEs (D4.1);
(ii) a report for the toolkit deployment with references to best practices observed (D4.2);
(iii) a project website (D4.3);
(iv) report on the cooperation with technology transfer networks and technology platforms with reference to the 5 training / presentation sessions (D4.4);
(v) report on the Europe-wide conference on knowledge transfer for young researchers and knowledge transfer professionals (D4.5).

However, the description herein will not focus on dissemination but, instead, will cover those deliverables only that have direct relevance to the project objectives or the project target groups.

D1.4: Synthetic report on the weaknesses in the research organisation - SME cooperation for knowledge transfer.

The report reflected on the input gathered by the consortium partners through 90 interviews with researchers and 90 interviews with enterprise representatives. All interviewees had prior experience with knowledge transfer via academia-industry cooperation. They were asked to identify the expectations and for such cooperation. A questionnaire template was used. Both sides agreed on the problems although the phrasing and perceived intensity differed between them. The major hurdles identified were:

(i) the difficulty of universities / research centres to understand the company needs;
(ii) the difficulty of the companies to identify the expertise needed in the universities and research centres;
(iii) the 'inflexibility' of universities and research centres to meet the companies' needs; though 'inflexibility' may be fully attributable to lack of resources and / or lack of time. Both sides acknowledged the challenge of establishing a 'common language' with properly skilled people, on both sides, able to work productively together in joint projects.

D2.1: Database of funding opportunities that can support knowledge transfer

The database acts as a map document of funding opportunities and other means that can support knowledge transfer in the countries represented in the project consortium. Thematically, it covers the agriculture, food and forestry sectors. One of the objectives of the database, the content of which has been - understandably - of transient nature, is to point to the nature of the various support schemes, looking at the regional level when relevant, instead of duplicating detailed information on each relevant scheme. Under that rationale the database includes mention to:
(i) funding sources for knowledge transfer;
(ii) funded projects that can give support to knowledge transfer; and
(iii) tools for knowledge transfer.

D2.2: Communication tool to promote exploitable knowledge

The communication tool developed by KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION is comprised by a brief communication guide - the 'Little Yellow Handbook' - and an Excel-based profile builder. The guide covers topic sections including:
(i) presenting the knowledge;
(ii) sourcing the funding;
(iii) developing the interest; and
(iv) negotiating and contract.

The accompanying profile builder guides users to enter information regarding the knowledge to be promoted and the people behind in pre-determined fields and then uses the individual fields to compile discrete profiles ('short profile', 'long profile', 'market profile', 'technical profile') suitable for approaching different audiences. The profile builder also foresees for the inverse need, i.e. the user to produce a profile for requesting specific knowledge.

D2.3: Knowledge-potential evaluation tool

The knowledge-potential evaluation tool consists of sets of questions regarding a specific knowledge-transfer proposal that aims to highlight aspects of the knowledge transfer that the user should have in mind, and evaluate - at the initial stage - the effect of implementing the said transfer onto an enterprise. A short guide illustrating the use of the tool has also been offered.

The tool has been designed with the needs and the capacity of an SME, in mind. However, the tool can be also used by other user types, such as researchers, investors or consultants, possibly in cooperation with an enterprise, in order to evaluate (or self-evaluate) the application potential of new knowledge.

Since the questions included cover a wide variety of topics ranging from the strategy of the enterprise, to the intellectual property issues associated with the proposed knowledge-transfer, to the in-house know-how of the enterprise, to the financial forecast around the investment, etc. the tool - ideally - should be used by groups of people within an enterprise that are in a position, collectively, have a good overall knowledge of the organisations. In any case, the tool, by design, does not go in depth in any of the question categories covered, so as to allow its use by small enterprises.

The tool produces numerical outputs after each set of questions. That is useful when comparing knowledge-transfer proposals, provided that those are, in fact, feasible to compare. It is also possible to consider the tool as a checklist of topics to consider before committing to a knowledge-transfer cooperation. In that case, the user will take each question as the starting point for an in-depth study of the various sides the proposed cooperation may include. Under this light, the tool could also be used as a guide to the elaboration of a detailed business plan.

D2.4: Knowledge transfer follow-up tool

The knowledge-transfer follow-up tool (promoted as the 'exchange assessment tool') consists of four parts:
(i) an instructing document;
(ii) one questionnaire intended for SMEs;
(iii) one questionnaire intended for public research organisations (PROs); and (iv) one Excel file for analysing and storing the answers received from interviewing personnel at both SMEs and PROs.

The exchange assessment tool helps to give an abstracted view of the results achieved through the knowledge-transfer activities, while, at the same time, providing insight into the positive and negative outcomes of the cooperation. In that way, it facilitates learning and improvement within the parties involved in the knowledge-transfer cooperation.

The use of the exchange assessment tool is simple as this has been designed with PROs and enterprises with little or no experience with knowledge transfer assessment in mind.

Ideally, the information provided to the exchange assessment tool should be collected via interviews. Through an analysis of the answers from personnel at the respective organisations, the tool will assist the staff involved in knowledge-transfer in identifying conflicting interests, challenges, differing expectations or culture, etc. and help them to improve their models / processes, accordingly. In addition to that, it can display in tangible way the results of a knowledge-transfer process.

D3.1: Training set on quality management systems for research organisations

This training set consists of a guidance document and an interactive decision tree. The guide briefly outlines the scope of the various quality systems that are usually applicable to research organisations, such as the ISO 9000 family of standards, GLP and ISO 17025. Reference is also made to the Spanish UNE 166000 family of standards. The guide also describes the common areas and differences of each quality practice and mentions various practical aspects associated with their implementation. Finally, the guide describes the situation in Spain as a case study of quality-management uptake.

The guide is accompanied by an interactive decision tree (in PowerPoint format) that guides users through the main options for selecting an appropriate quality-management system. The decision tree has been made for training purposes, as it is not sufficiently refined to guide potential users through all different applications and requirements a quality management system would have.

Whereas the training set on the quality-management systems is a stand-alone output of the project, it mostly addresses trainers with experience in such systems that can further adapt it to the needs of a specific audience.

D3.2: Training set on the importance of the proof-of-concept stage

The proof of concept has been described via a detailed presentation covering the following aspects:
(i) background, rationale, misconceptions and definitions for the proof of concept;
(ii) the needs to perform a proof-of-concept study;
(iii) seeking for funding and using the proof of concept to drive funding.

The basic presentation included a number of case studies.

Practice demonstrated that the perception of proof-of-concept widely varies across the countries covered by KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION. Thus, the project trainers often adapted the basic training presentation to include case studies of local relevance.

D3.3: Training set on intellectual property protection

The training set on intellectual property covers all aspects of intellectual property that normally apply to research organisations or SMEs of the target sectors. It has been structured in small, thematically oriented PowerPoint presentations that cover:

(i) patents and related tools for the agro-food sector;
(ii) trade secrets;
(iii) plant variety rights;
(iv) utility models;
(v) geographical indications;
(vi) trademarks;
(v) copyright;
(vi) designs;
(vii) intellectual property issues in collaborative research projects.

The structure of this set makes it easy to customise it for particular audiences and also to enrich it with more relevant examples, case studies and interactive sessions. During the course of the project, the partners employed updated versions of the material as needed.

D3.4: Training set on evaluating the application potential of knowledge

The training set on evaluating the application potential of knowledge adopts the established approach of developing a business plan around a promising idea. The training makes references (and selected repetitions) of instruments (such as intellectual protection) or project-derived tools that trainees could consider in driving their ideas to maturity.

The corresponding presentation consists of two parts:
(i) the assessment of the commercial potential, with a view to identifying the key markets and deciding on the commercialisation strategy; and
(ii) the creation of the business proposal with a view to the elements of a business plan and the different types of potential investors. The presentation includes a number of examples.

Together with the presentation, a brief checklist for the compilation of a business plan has been provided.

D3.5: Guidelines for knowledge transfer trainers

The guidelines for knowledge transfer trainers aim at supporting organisations in developing training courses on knowledge transfer topics.

Though not making reference to the individual topics that a course should include, the guide document presents information on all aspects of organising a training course, ranging from how to design, plan and implement the training, to monitoring the performance of an organisation in the knowledge-transfer process after the training intervention. The guide includes a number of case studies of trainings, discussing the effectiveness of the training approach used therein. Also, the guide briefly reiterates the training material that has been produced under KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION.

Potential impact:

KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION has achieved its foreseen impact via the following routes:

(a) working on solid ground, having looked at the state of the art in knowledge transfer at the academia-industry cooperation level and having revisited the characteristics of such cooperation (both positive and negative ones);
(b) constructing tools that build on existing know-how that address major hurdles of the knowledge-transfer process, i.e.:
(i) efficiently promote exploitable knowledge;
(ii) allow SMEs (or researchers) evaluate the potential / benefits of specific knowledge; and
(iii) allow researchers or SMEs reflect on the impact and overall experience of each individual knowledge-transfer case in their organisation, thus stimulating further such activities;
(c) compiling quality training material on a mix of topics with strong relevance to knowledge-transfer, following a modular fashion that allows tailoring to the needs of individual audiences;
(d) applying and disseminating the know-how gathered via workshops, an international conference and several toolkit deployment sessions with appropriate end users;
(e) initiating cooperation and interaction with a wide range of other actors, including major ones, such as the Enterprise Europe Network and European Technology Platforms, as well as joining forces with several FP7 projects, promoting (and passing through) the outputs of KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION, thus ensuring continuity and sustainability.

Overall, 40 workshops were carried out by the project partners in the countries covered by the consortium, which were attended by over 1300 participants.

Additionally, the 2-day international conference KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION organised under the title "Knowledge transfer as a key tool of innovation in sustainable bio-economy" gathered 145 participants from 35 countries (including several third countries), gave the floor to distinguished speakers from the European Commission (EC) and policy-making bodies, research organisations and industry representatives to discuss on the current knowledge-transfer perspectives.

Most importantly, however, the partners of KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION have actively adopted the outputs of the project, suitably modified to fit their activities. During the lifetime of the project, this has been demonstrated by INNO and ETAT incorporating elements of the project toolkit while cooperating with enterprises on research-exploitation issues (that is additional to 15 toolkit application instances, where its usability was probed). However, all project partners have routes to exploit the know-how gained during the project and they are likely to do so via their normal activities. That is particularly important because it brings the beyond-project dissemination to the practical stage at the local/regional level, essentially maximising the project’s impact.

Further to that, some elements of the KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION project, via its partners, have been taken into consideration for further development and/or dissemination into subsequent initiatives (e.g. MEAT TIPS, CAPINFOOD), while the project has provided input to a number of other actions (e.g. MARINETT). Overall, the KNOWLEDGE2INNOVATION partners approached more than 10 already existent networks and cooperated (at different intensities) with the consortia of more than 7 EC-funded projects through a variety of means (joint meetings or events, dedicated appointments, etc.).

With regard to the impact on society, the project’s contribution was achieved through:
(i) further raising awareness on knowledge-transfer issues and engaging into discussion with a variety of audiences; and
(ii) enabling more knowledge producers or potential users engage into a knowledge-transfer cooperation, making publicly available simple tools with low or moderate uptake prerequisites.

It is important to stress that the 40 local training workshops organised by the project were attended by students, senior and junior researches, industry and knowledge transfer professionals, consultants, etc. Further to that, the conference gained truly transnational attention.

Since the persistence of the project outputs is likely to be significant, as explained previously, the contribution towards the promotion of knowledge transfer principle to the society level can be expected to substantial.