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Knowledge Transfer - the key to innovation?

7 Jun 2016
Alan Morrow, Operations Manager at InterTradeIreland discusses why technology or knowledge transfer between academia and industry has never been more relevant.

But what exactly is Technology/Knowledge Transfer?

Technology or knowledge transfer between academia and industry can be defined as the means by which expertise, knowledge, skills and capabilities are transferred from a knowledge centre (university, college or research centre) to a firm in need of that knowledge. Thus the purpose of technology and knowledge transfer is to catalyse and facilitate innovation.

Times have changed with trends in innovation now moving from being generated within a firm to being driven by external resources including knowledge centres, such as Institutes of Further and Higher Education and research centres.

The Challenges

Of course there are challenges to both business and academia including a lack of trust over issues such as intellectual property, uncertainty about the potential benefits of working together, and the difficulty on both sides of finding the time for initial exploratory conversations and completing an application form!

There can also be disparity between universities and businesses on the kinds of outputs that would make such collaborations seem worthwhile. While businesses may be seeking saleable products to generate additional revenue, academics prize excellent research outputs and publications.

However the skills and knowledge obtained by both parties are invaluable. Having that additional resource to help rethink your products and services can greatly change your commercial path. Innovation and product development requires specialist skills both from within your company and from external supports which is where Academia is invaluable.

Where do I start?

1. Recognise that there is an opportunity or a problem that could be addressed if you had access to the necessary knowledge, skills and expertise.

2. Identify a suitable knowledge centre that possesses the skills, expertise and facilities required to solve the problem or exploit the opportunity. (Before embarking on a journey to work with or access knowledge from a Knowledge Centre, you should:

  • Have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve from the engagement.
  • Have a good understanding of the expertise and potential value of the institution’s input.

Help is available see section below!

3 Begin the partnership with a joint analysis of needs and solutions, appropriate research and identification of willing researchers within the institution.

4. The researchers’ knowledge should be adapted or ‘localised’ to meet the specific needs of your business. This requires collaborative working and the building of trust amongst the partners.

5. As the project develops, the partners create the opportunity for innovation in process, product or markets. This depends on your ability to absorb new knowledge and also on your ability to deliver.

6. The mark of successful innovation? Success in the market place and adoption by end users!

What help is at hand?

Knowledge/Technology transfer is well supported at the interface between universities, business and Government agencies. And the good news is that help is at hand now for businesses through the formation of Technology Transfer Offices in Universities and Colleges to overcome these concerns and broker partnerships with the right academic experts. Most people employed in technology transfer have a background working in companies, from start-ups to SMEs to multi-nationals, and understand the issues that businesses face when seeking to innovate.

Also InterTradeIreland through its FUSION programme has been helping companies over the past 15 years to develop new products, improve existing products and processes by helping them to fund a high calibre science, engineering or technology graduate and partnering them with a third level institution with specific expertise.

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