“Knowledge that sits on the shelf is of no use to anyone”, or cooperation between research institutes and business

The innovation leaders club held an event on 27 May in Mektory on the best practice in research and development work and cooperation between research institutions and businesses. Speakers from universities and from research, business and the public sector brought their viewpoints to the discussion and the day ended with a lively panel discussion.

The event was opened by the Head of Industry Collaboration at Tallinn University of Technology Katre Eljas. Katre spoke about collaboration with research institutions, describing the different formats for cooperation, explaining what an industrial doctorate is, and discussing grants, contracts and similar issues.

See HERE for a gallery of pictures from the event!

Why should businesses and universities work together?

“I absolutely agree that innovation that is based on science and on research and development work is innovation that has a long lasting impact, and it is through this that the economy can best be stimulated for a long time. There are other reasons for working together as well, such as the need to know about research work and research results, the desire to be close to talent, to develop an organisation and the network, and to see opportunities for development earlier, and the drive to have the best possible access to solutions”.

Katre spoke about the client journey for businesses at university. “I have heard a lot about how a university is a strange and mystical thing”, she said about the typical initial reaction of businesses. First of all it is really necessary to have an initial meeting to make clear what the business needs from the university. “It is increasingly the case today that companies actually need more complex solutions than they even realise themselves at first, as it is not just about just one technology or solving just one problem, as the problem can have many branches and need interdisciplinarity”.

“As we work out the actual needs, we can bring in various different scientists and specialists. Scientists also want to do meaningful collaborative work, not cooperation for the sake of cooperation, as researchers want to gain something from that collaboration, and to learn from it. They are interested in the knowledge that is created having real use later on and bringing value and benefits to society”, she continued. Intellectual property is always a very important issue with any type of cooperation, but there is no need to fear it. “We always agree in advance with businesses, so there would not be any arguments later”.

Cooperative projects can also be very different in other ways. The projects can be dependent upon the form of cooperation with business. Katre roughly divided these forms into cooperation through science and cooperation through study. She quoted one of her graduates, who said “when you work with the University, you should always remember that when you have left university, you have not finished with it but you are only beginning with it”. Katre emphasised that universities are very interested in long-term cooperation related to science, as that is where researchers can learn a very great deal.

“Knowledge that sits on the shelf is of no use to anyone”, she said, explaining why it is important to deliver scientific discoveries to business and to society at large.

She illustrated the importance of communication as well, saying that: “when universities are asked why they do not work with businesses, they say they do not know what it is that business needs. When businesses are asked the same question, they reply that they do not know what universities do”.

Obstacles to collaboration can come from many sources, such as time, communication, different understandings of cooperation, expectations, or a lack of money. A good basis for building cooperation is the desire and will to put in the time and provide the content, the need to find a shared goal, and the readiness to change.

The full blog post can be read on the Innovation Leaders website HERE. You can also find the gallery of the event at the link.

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