Industries

Tech transfer offers an alternative path for scientists

5th October 2020
Lanna Cooper

Knowledge and technology transfer, or KTT, played a role in the creation of everything from Google to Gatorade. The Graphene Flagship explores this growing field, and how it connects academia with industry. At some point in their career, almost every researcher must make a choice between academia and industry. Some stick faithfully to one end of the spectrum, while others move between the two at different stages of their career. KTT offers a different path, one that combines research with business perspectives.

KTT refers to the exchange of information and intellectual property between the academic creators of a technology and a commercial partner who wishes to apply or bring the new technology to the market. 

In KTT there are two major drives: technology push and market pull. In the first, scientists create a technology, but require a company to develop it into a product and market it. In this case, the company will 'buy' the solution, licensing-in a patent or intellectual property.

In the second, market pull, a company has a problem, or sees an opportunity for innovation, but lacks the scientific know-how or resources to solve it in-house. It will approach an institution or research centre and ask for a collaboration or service. The partners will then innovate together to find the answer.

Rather than a simple exchange, the transfer process is better thought of as an open conversation, with ideas and information flowing between the two sides, as they work together to bring their technology to fruition.

A career in KTT enables people to work with technology while considering both the scientific and business aspects. Roles in KTT are varied and reflect the many stages of the process. From intellectual property management and legal affairs, to technology marketing or business development, there are many areas in which STEM graduates have the potential to excel.

Meet Cinzia Spinato

Cinzia Spinato is a business developer and KTT specialist at Graphene Flagship partner ICN2, Spain. After completing her PhD, specialising in carbon nanomaterials, she realised that the academic path was not for her.

“At that point, I knew I wanted to work more closely with companies and make use of my soft skills such as networking and organisation.” explained Spinato. “I considered options such as project management and the business side of research, but KTT became an obvious choice. It allows me to work with new technology, but to approach it with the full picture of both scientific and business perspectives.”

In her current role, Spinato works with a team that deals with contracts, legal issues, and the intellectual property produced by her research institute and the Graphene Flagship.

“Researchers and companies come to our team to regulate the terms of contracts and licenses, and to sort the commercial and legal framework for any sort of collaboration,” Spinato continued. “My main responsibilities are negotiation and interaction with stakeholders, liaising with all the different parties to understand the needs of partners and create connections and new business opportunities.

“Sometimes, researchers develop a technology, but aren’t sure how to translate it into a product with market potential. In my role, it is key to understand whether the technology could be marketable, and then to work out the best strategy to get it there, whether through company collaboration or licencing, or by creating a spin-off.”

Spinato credits the Graphene Flagship as having had a hand in the increasing number of opportunities in graphene and related fields.

“Five years ago, when I finished my PhD, the challenge was that there were very few roles working in nanomaterials available,” continued Spinato. “Since then there has been a huge shift, with many more opportunities available - partly thanks to the Graphene Flagship.

“Personally, the Graphene Flagship has given me many chances to network and connect with people who are working at the forefront of science. This will be invaluable as I continue to develop my career.”

Graphene and KTT

A core aim of the Graphene Flagship is to work with academic and industrial researchers to bring graphene-based solutions out of laboratories and into European society. Transfer of innovation to industry is essential to reach this goal.

To help our technology transfer efforts, the Graphene Flagship created eight business development positions, like Spinato’s. Each business developer serves a specific application area and helps to identify industry needs and how graphene can address them. 

As we move into our fourth funding cycle, we hope to advance even further towards the widespread commercialisation of graphene products. 30% of our budget will fund eleven industry-led spearhead projects, all with the common goal of developing new or improved products that integrate graphene and layered materials.

Knowledge and technology transfer will be more relevant than ever, as the proportion of industrial partners in our core consortium has grown to almost 50%.

“The Graphene Flagship has proven very successful in taking fundamental research to applications, doubling the usual pace of innovation and achieving results in just six years,” explained Jari Kinaret, Director of the Graphene Flagship. “I am convinced that this trend will continue in the next phase of the project and we will continue to deliver on the promises we have made.”

Technology exploitation and commercialisation is an essential stage in many research projects, especially for the Graphene Flagship and its mission to bring graphene technology into society. KTT offers a range of careers that allows you to learn about the latest research, and help that research make a real impact on the world. This is a fulfilling alternative for those who wish to pursue a career outside of the classic research path, while maintaining a strong connection with academia.

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