Knowledge Transfer between Academics And Companies In Open Innovation

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Knowledge Transfer between Academics And Companies In Open Innovation

Particularly useful Partnerships

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


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