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The successful commercialisation of the results of research in academic institutions usually involves the help of an efficient and skilled knowledge exchange office, or similar team.
I’m lucky to lead the Enterprise Unit at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, which has been evaluated as the top higher education institution in the UK for the impact of its research in the Research Excellence Framework. The ICR’s Enterprise Unit has also helped to generate the highest level of invention income at any UK higher education institution.
Of course it’s an advantage to work at a world-leading research institution like the ICR, but commercial income doesn’t generate itself – and I believe there are six key factors which have underpinned our success:
Keeping up to date
Knowledge exchange offices (KEOs), like the ICR’s Enterprise Unit, need staff who are skilled in evaluating, developing and commercialising research outputs and who are up to date with industry developments. That means providing best-in-class training in all aspects of their work, maintaining a presence at key industry events and having access to the latest commercial intelligence.
Maximising outputs in knowledge exchange requires a streamlined and efficient operation. This is hard to achieve and even harder to measure, but there are developments in the sector attempting to do this. For example, the ICR’s Enterprise Unit recently took part in a pilot project, run by the sector-wide knowledge exchange organisation PraxisAuril, to evaluate and benchmark the efficiency of KEOs. Measuring and striving towards greater efficiency in knowledge exchange, is also likely to also be a feature of the upcoming Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) concordat.
Putting impact and societal benefit before profit
It is important that academic institutions make a fair and reasonable return on their investment – in terms of both time and resource – in research and its subsequent commercialisation.
But in our view, what matters more is that institutions are able to demonstrate impact and societal benefit. Achieving and demonstrating impact is not only an aim in its own right, but also increases the potential for an organisation to generate future income by driving other income streams such as the funding allocation to universities dependent on the results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), philanthropic donations and future collaborative awards.
KEOs need to show pragmatism in their approach to contracting and negotiating with partners and above all to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy. Regular re-evaluation of processes should root out unnecessary procedures and make it easier for both academics and industry partners to engage.
Trying new things
Nothing stands still and we need to have a willingness to try new things and be cautiously experimental. It is important to try new models of engagement and experiment with new processes, but this requires a supportive senior management that understand that not all of these new approaches will be successful – and that identifying approaches that don’t work is almost as important as finding things that do.
It’s vital to keep connected with peers nationally and internationally, to identify and emulate best practice wherever it arises.
Up to now, I’ve focused in this series of blogs on internal considerations within university structures. Next, I look at how KEOs can reach out to partners and collaborators in industry.
Read part five
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