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Knowledge Transfer between Academics And Companies In Open Innovation

NCUB made a research commissioned by the Technology Strategy Board and Research Councils UK on the benefits of academic and business knowledge transfer partnerships through a model of best practice (you can get the full Successful engagement in Open Innovation  report here).  The academic expertise engaged with British businesses so as to improve their competitiveness and performance. The knowledge transfer (KT) partnerships has been shown to be particularly useful for universities wanting to engage with SMEs that do not have enough expertise and resources to manage an open innovation partnership.

There were challenges in the open innovation process. According to a study done on innovation , 65 per cent of UK businesses don’t like the long-term nature of academic research. Fifty-five per cent cited regulations regarding confidentiality or intellectual property. More significantly, the study suggests that UK trends in academic-industry engagement in innovation may be going in the wrong direction.

Factors that businesses cited to being a hindrance in creating a smooth relationship between the two worlds, in this study, were researchers focusing on achieving strong and leading hedge results while businesses were okay with 80% solutions, the speed of working  between the two or even un-shared expectations leading to barriers and broken trust and many others. Academics on the other hand found that they were at times insufficiently rewarded, there was too much academic bureaucracy or a lack of experience in dealing with external partners…

Generic model of ideal outcomes and attributes of Knowledge Transfer (5 Cs Model) and the importance of the individual who bridge the two communities

The Creative process in the study has been divided into five parts which can be seen below:

Company Opportunity: A business recognizes that there is an opportunity or a problem that it could address if it had access to knowledge and expertise in specific areas and this may come from a university or academic institution.

Co-Recognition: With the match already in place, a formalized agreement on issues such as IP and delivery conditions is sorted out. This agreement process will also involve the Technology Transfer Office of the academic institution (TTO) and legal representatives on both sides. Academic benefits of the collaboration need to be clear at this stage or the academic partner may not have the incentive to invest the resources required.

Co- Formulation – Knowledge from the academic and business domains is synthesized. This requires collaborative working and the building of trust amongst the partners.

Co-Creation: As the project develops, the partners create the opportunity for innovation in process, product or markets.

Commercialization – This is a mark of success for both parties.

During this process there are two people important to the success of the project:

1. Associate role – The Knowledge Transfer Partnership model allows the business partner to supplement their in-house resources through an Associate. He / She is an outsider recruited by the partnership, employed by the academic partner but embedded in the business to work on the project. Training and development for the Associate are a key part of the Knowledge Transfer Partnership.

2. Adviser role – He/ She is provided by the Technology Strategy Board to support the partnership in the development of its proposal and advise on the managerial aspects of the Knowledge Transfer process. Advisers act as mentors in the preparation for and the implementation of Knowledge Transfer Partnership projects and specifically focus on managerial requirements.

Importance of mechanisms that build trust and allow organisational learning

Knowledge Transfer Partnership is particularly successful at helping partners learn by doing and overcome the barriers to absorbing new knowledge and putting it into practice. It is crucial that staff from the business partner invest sufficient effort and time to absorb or embed the knowledge that they have gained. Over half the partnerships studied commented that the Project Plan was valuable.

It was observed that it:

• Offered a structure that stimulated informal contacts but also provided a controlled means of discussing changes to project plans.

• Provided a framework for regular review and reflection, enabling lessons learned to be fed into future planning.

• Encouraged learning by doing or ‘action learning’.

• Facilitated accountability and the clarity of roles and also helped in partnership building.

• Focus attention on the project through the regularity of contact. Regular attendance by the Academic supervisor is particularly important in this respect.

• Allowed wider contacts to be established through the Local Management Committee. This strengthens partnership bonds and enables knowledge to be embedded.

Added value of Knowledge Transfer Partnership

The Knowledge Transfer Partnership provides weekly meetings between the Associate and the academic supervisor on the business premises and monthly meetings between the Associate, academic supervisor and business supervisor. This helped in the communication between the specialist knowledge in a form that is comprehensible to the business environment. It contributes to building a sustainable relationship between the business and academic institution, which is critical for the innovation process.

The table below  summarizes the processes and mechanisms of the KTPartnership and shows how they help innovation partners meet the challenges of knowledge transfer and develop operational strategies for success, at each stage of the innovation process.

process and mechanism table 1

 from:  Successful engagement in Open Innovation, page 18

process and mechanism table2

from:  Successful engagement in Open Innovation, page 21


The study has shown that, in the new world of open innovation, engagement with business can bring tangible benefits for the Higher Educational Institutions that go far beyond patents, licenses or academic deliverables. It brings for instance case studies for teaching, new field research methodologies and management techniques. It also helps academics develop the skills and experience necessary for working with external partners in a sustainable fashion all equal to the importance of  business’ goal of commercialization.

One aspect remains unsolved in the article which is how SMEs identify the right academic partners that have the expertise for solving their problems. This is a difficult question that open innovation intermediaries as ideXlab have a mission to resolve.

To sum up the report is an overall diagram showing the value added of the KTP.

value added table

from:  Successful engagement in Open Innovation, page 21


cc photos to /



Longitude Prize: Open Innovation Challenge To Fight Against The Resistance To Antibiotics

This year’s choice topic for the longitude Prize is finding the long awaited answer on the resistance to Antibiotics with an awarded prize of £10 M to be won.The World Health Organization estimates that antibiotics treatments add an average of 20 years to all of our lives. But in the 80 years since the discovery of penicillin, our overuse of antibiotics has put pressure on bacteria to evolve resistance, leading to the emergence of untreatable superbugs that threaten the basis of modern medicine.

Recently, David Cameron committed the UK to leading this global campaign.The challenge is being run and developed by Nesta, with the Technology Strategy Board as its launch funding partner.

Six challenges were initially selected and arguments and selections were made to determine the most important and urgent. They ranged from tackling dementia, water desalination, assistive technology for paralysis, assistive technologies for dementia, climate change by addressing carbon air travel to big food innovation. (consult them on here)

Nesta hopes that the Longitude Prize 2014 will help to promote challenge (or inducement) prizes  as a way of solving big scientific problems. This form of awarding is more objective – the one with the best idea wins- and brings about more openness where anyone from a team of university researchers, a start-up, even a lone wolf inventor can participate. Challenges as this also bring  clear business benefits. Known companies like P&G and General Mills have been known to open up their challenges to the outside world so as to get  solutions. Governments are also crucial in playing a vital role in backing research. The EU, for example, is considering a significant expansion of prizes as part of its Horizon 2020 program.

Nesta will finalize the detailed prize criteria for the main Longitude Prize and publish it during autumn. They are asking for business’ inputs if they find they have missed any criteria.

Do you have an idea to solve the antibiotics challenge? Register your interest and you’ll be alerted when submissions open in autumn 2014.


Collaborative innovation and societal challenges

Since the very first idea box, collaborative innovation practice has come a long way and many initiatives are being developed. Nowadays, businesses do not hesitate to open their innovation strategy to respond better to company challenges.

Innovation has become an opportunity to mobilize collective intelligence, within the company or outside of it, from employees, clients, suppliers, subcontractors to every partners. By doing so, a business adapts itself to its stakeholders by fully involving them in its core strategy, and it transforms it into a collaborative, imaginative and creative strategy.

A new way to involve employees

According to an Innov’Acteurs study, 76% of the companies chose to implicate their internal staff  in their collaborative innovation strategy.

When it comes to internal collaborative innovation, there are numerous practices : collaborative platforms, creativity training, hackathon, organization of collaborative innovation trophy … At the end of 2009, according to the Observatoire du Management de l’Innovation – BearingPoint, 75 % of large companies had implemented one or many initiatives involving employees.

The SNCF group stands as an example to be followed in this area : it established a network of 250 facilitators to stimulate innovation within the company, and even designed a system that allows every SNCF agent to alert the company of any malfunction that would affect travellers. The company also organized a hackathon for developers – professionals or amateurs – employees of SNCF, to imagine new apps enhancing traveller’s access to information.

Open up external ideas to suit the market needs better

If the concept of collaborative innovation is more about mobilizing inner resources, then it is also interesting to put up external actions, involving clients, schools, local authorities, research labs …

Whether it aims to make a consumer panel in order to test a product’s prototype before introducing it on the market or engaging clients more directly in new products design process, as Oxylane group does with its sport’s article co-creation platform OpenOxylane, businesses no longer hesitate to open their doors up and give a more strategic role to external resources.

Collaborative innovation strategies involving third-parties are made easier by specific tools depending on the user and its goal. You may read more about it on our article about collaborative innovation platforms .

Collaborative Innovation became a leverage for competitiveness

If the development of a collaborative innovation strategy induces more more risk taking by encouraging every idea to be expressed, it also proved to have positive impact on companies that adopt them.

As reported by Innov’acteurs/Inergie in a 2011 study, 67% of the employees deem collaborative innovation process motivating. Similarly, researches led by the Association pour le développement de l’innovation participative ( association for the development of collaborative innovation) stressed that organizations that adopted such initiatives have seen their productivity increase dramatically, their defective product rates pushed down as was employee absenteeism.

Behind collaborative innovation lies a business transformation initiative but also a change in its career, management, and behavior with third-parties.

To read more about this necessary business transformation, we invite you to look at our Webinar and our White Paper .

 Picture courtesy of the NewYorker[subscribe2]


Open innovation platforms  are a great success when it comes to bringing experts and companies together so that they can innovate. We got the opportunity to interview Justo Puerto Albandoz , a professor of operations research at the university of Seville Spain, who has a research group, Nuevos desafios de la matematica combinatoria,  that worked together with a company X ( information of the company can’t be disclosed ). The two meet through the ideXlab open innovation platform. Here is [tweetherder]the success story of open innovation [/tweetherder]told to us.

1.What is your domain of expertise?

Our domain of expertise is the analysis and design of complex networks. This includes location, optimization of supply chain networks and other relative subjects. These problems involve a series of different fields that lie within applied mathematics. We have some expertise of analyzing different networks like technological networks, some biological networks, information networks and social networks. Our major expertise is in the analysis of technological network essentially distribution networks, routing problems and the likes.

– Why is it important?

The study of networks, in the form of mathematical graph theory, is one of the fundamental pillars of discrete mathematics.  Typical network studies in sociology involve the circulation of questionnaires, asking respondents to detail their interactions with others or in logistics the organization of routes, schedules and timetables of personnel vehicle fleets of jobs in production plants. One can then use the responses to reconstruct a network in which vertices may represent individuals and edges the interactions between them. In the same form, the optimized plans of actions are used in logistics  networks  to increase benefits or reduce costs. Typical social network studies address issues of centrality, connectivity and optimization. Our focus is twofold to consider the design of networks seeking for amenable properties that allow effective optimization of several aspects on those structures and to shift to the consideration of large-scale statistical properties of large scale networks.

 – Where does it apply?

Our expertise and methods can be applied to solve problems of many kinds in different complex structures. Specifically, they are directly applicable to Social networks, Information networks, Technological networks, Biological networks and Logistics networks.

2. Why is it sometimes difficult to get your expertise known and recognized by industry players?

Our role is basically teaching and doing basic research so our communication channels remain around the academia people who are working in the same environment as us. The only way to contact industrial partners is either by chance or by collaboration with partners we previously contacted. Usually we are in contact with companies where former students are working. So the possibility to work with industrial partners is very limited.

 – How did ideXlab help?

IdeXlab put us in contact with an industrial partner that was looking  for a solution for a particular problem that was exactly in our field of expertise. Without this contact it would have been impossible to work with them. We are in the south of Spain in Seville and our partner is a company working in France.

 3. Does the university or the government encourage you to work with the industry or is it your own initiative?

There are no such initiatives. In principle, there should be some incentives for us to work with industries because this produces a return that goes into the universities. But in terms of promotion in the universities, most of the time, it isn’t by industrial contract but by technical publication.  So if you are a scientist that is looking for better positions in the universities then there aren’t real incentives for doing contract with industries. But on the other hand, when you are coordinating a big group of researchers or a group of people who have achieved some degree of seniority, there is some incentive for you to do contracts with industries because you get in touch with actual problems that, in fact, help you in developing new techniques and new research that will go into the technical knowledge in your field.

4. What did your project entail with the company we put you in touch with?

I can only say a few words about this because we have a non-disclosure contract with the company. But I can talk about the field of collaboration. This company asked us to develop a new management tool for the control and design of future metro networks. We developed a tool that was based on an optimization framework that was able to cope with the different types of metro networks and could be used in the future to improve management and control of complete networks.

5.How would you qualify the relationship created with the company now?

We are satisfied with the company and we finished our first collaboration by October 2013. We are now looking for new extension because after the final delivery, we internally thought of the problem in a more theoretical point of view and we have developed an even better solution. So this open innovation experience created some additional appetite on our side and this is the way it should be.

6.  Had you ever heard of open innovation before? If so, explain to us in a few words, your thoughts on it?

Before being in contact with ideXlab, we had no idea what open innovation was. This was the first question I asked Jean-Louis (CEO of ideXlab) because so far the way we were contacted by the industry was completely different. Either someone who knew us would either come to the office or phone us, send us a letter directly from the company. In this occasion the contact was different because we were contacted by an intermediate company that was looking for a solution for another company and this was something we understood after the first meeting with ideXlab but we didn’t have a previous experience with this type of collaboration.

I think open innovation is a great idea. I would recommend it to other people. If there is a company which is an expert in looking for solution for industrial companies then it’s something that could help both sides and this is very important.




[tweetherder]What are the environments that lead to unusual levels of innovation?[/tweetherder]

[tweetherder]Steven Johnsonshares his quest on the discovery of where exactly good ideas are born[/tweetherder]. Are they really individual EUREKA moments or do they come from an architecture of space where people get together from different backgrounds and fields of expertise and share?

During his venture, he examined different environments like biological environments (e.g. coral reefs), the World Wide Web and history of the first cities and tried to figure out the recurring patterns that can be applied to our lives today.

If  we are trying to build organizations that are innovative, we have to have  environments he calls ‘liquid environments‘ where we have lots of different ideas that come together, from different backgrounds, with different interests, working together and finally leading to innovation. He gives an example of a researcher, Kevin Dunbar, who recorded a number of science labs around the world trying to figure out where most break-through ideas happened. Dunbar realized all the[tweetherder] ideas did not happen in the lab in front of a microscope, they happened at the conference table[/tweetherder] ; at weekly lab meetings when everybody got together and shared their latest finding and the mistakes made.

He also argues that we often talk about  the value of protecting ideas through intellectual property rights, having secretive R&D labs etc… but we should spend at least as much time valuing the premises of connecting ideas and not just protecting them. A great example given is that of the power of open innovation systems with the birth of the GPS market. 30 years after being opened to the public, it is now a technology that sits in most people’s pockets, cars and more.

Enjoy the video as we did: