How to capitalize on scientific advances in your business – Eurasia Review

The World Wide Web, touch screens, and radiation therapy are just three of the revolutionary technologies that were discovered in research labs, with no clear commercial applications at the start.

With their deep pockets and long-term visions, large scientific research laboratories continue to be fertile ground for breakthroughs. But how to develop the commercial applications of their findings is far from clear. One approach in the innovation literature is known as “serendipity”, which could be loosely defined as “looking for luck or happy accidents”. But can serendipity be systematized for better results? “Yes” is the short answer. With help.

To better understand how purely scientific inventions can come to market, Laia Pujol of IESE and her co-authors analyze the operations of ATTRACT, an EU-funded initiative that aims to “systematize the discovery of revolutionary applications. For new technologies from six leading European scientists. research establishments. The results of their study are published in “Systematizing serendipity for big science infrastructures: The ATTRACT project” to appear in the journal technology.

In Europe alone, there are at least 55 “major scientific research infrastructures” (referred to in research as BSRIs) and more than 130 in the United States. All require significant public investment, and as such, policymakers generally seek to maximize their potential socio-economic returns.

What are the main obstacles to the transfer of their technologies to alternative commercial applications? The researchers note that public institutions can have very different processes compared to most business innovation contexts and may even be hostile to commercialization. Project schedules can span decades, making them difficult to synchronize with the shorter horizons of venture capital. In addition, the focus is generally on “deep tech” advancements, which may require much more development than consumer-oriented products.

To meet such challenges in the European Union, ATTRACT is a promising initiative which has already provided 170 projects with 100,000 euros each for the development of a proof of concept or a prototype for commercial application over just one year. The main novelty is that ATTRACT funding goes directly to research institutions; they are responsible for selecting the technologies to promote and then drawing up a plan to make the commercial leap, by entering into negotiations with industrial partners.

Pujol and his co-authors identified three ways in which researchers in these 170 projects came up with alternative commercial applications to launch: 41% combined different technologies, 27% chose to apply the technology in a different field, and 14% chose to apply the technology in a different field. used artificial intelligence or machine. learning.

According to their analyzes, there are several reasons why instruments like ATTRACT fulfill their function: they generate networking opportunities between different actors inside and outside the research institution, they provide support at the right time, and they systematically help cross milestones in order to refine technologies or find suitable markets.

The practical implications

Research argues for continued funding of either pure science or big science, with resources intended to encourage technology transfer to a larger ecosystem for commercialization. In addition, according to the authors of the article, the public sector should take a leading role in promoting innovation, mitigating risks in strategically important sectors until emerging technologies acquire sufficient maturity. to make them attractive to private capital.

At the same time, business leaders should appreciate the benefits of collaborating with science labs. Even when their findings seem remote from your business operations, keep in mind that they could become the next disruption in your market. Understand that initiatives like ATTRACT aim to facilitate collaboration and accelerate the pace of innovation.

Methodology, very briefly

The researchers interviewed managers of large scientific research infrastructures (BSRIs) and conducted a qualitative analysis of the 170 proposals submitted to the EU ATTRACT initiative. They also designed a survey which was distributed to members of the 170 projects funded by the ATTRACT initiative between August and September 2020. They received 152 completed questionnaires, representing 116 unique projects.

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