The role of go-between as a match maker between academic scientists and industry to foster innovation should not be underestimated
Innovation is viewed as one of the most important factors in the economic growth of a nation. Allyson Reed, one of the founding directors of the UK’s innovation agency, called the Technology Strategy Board, is also director of corporate relations at the University of Warwick, UK. She talks about her vision to foster more innovation between universities and the private sector.
In Europe, should the scientific community play a more active role in contributing to innovation?
Scientists should be involved, but I think innovation is a field where all partners need be involved. First, business and scientists should not underestimate the role of intermediary organisations who can speak both to industry and to researchers. Second, you have to really work at building relationships before you look at particular projects.
What can such intermediary organisations do?
Very entrepreneurial universities, who tend to have a lot of engagement with business, can play this role as an intermediary. For example, the University of Warwick is running a Polymer Club, promoting conversation between scientists and companies. There are sixty companies involved, so they can first understand each other. Then, they can go and look for research projects on which they can collaborate.
Do scientists at your university also receive business training?
We put entrepreneurship and business training in many of ourcourses.There are entrepreneurial modules in undergraduate courses, but also in post-doctoral programmes. We have doctoral training centres, which is something the UK has pushed forward. Scientists get exposure to the sorts of skills they need to engage with business. And they also hear about entrepreneurship.
For many young scientists, especially on the Continent, the obstacles to starting a company seem daunting.
It is more about having the confidence. Many of the universities—I can only speak for the UK—have put a lot of support structures in place. Some of this support is start-up money. But actually it is often more than that. It is having mentors, it is having access to a space where you can try something out and itis also knowing what to do about protecting intellectual property. Often scientists may need a business person to work with them and incubator or accelerator spaces.