Science and Industry: a stronger partnership for challenging R&D programs

Science, business and knowledge transfer are the key words that describe modern world. Business cannot be successful if it is not continuously reforming itself by innovating it’s product and services in the market. The societies are facing the same challenge. Digitalization and sustainability are just two examples of the processes that will change peoples’ life.  We discussed the subject with Erkki Ormala, Professor of Practice, Innovation Management at the Aalto University, Business School (Finland) and member of ESOF2020 Science to Business Committee.

Science, business and tech transfer: how we could enhance a stronger cross fertilization between them in order to shape a better and sustainable future?

In a recent Horizon 2020 study ‘Industrial Innovation in Transition’ we found that nowadays innovations originate from business ecosystems where knowledge flows are the key element of the interaction between the ecosystem partners. Scientific organizations were critical partners in successful ecosystems.

In the same way the development of science is today dependent in many cases on collaboration with industry. Expensive infrastructures and access to knowledge that describe the changing word are often provided by industry. In many advanced countries the science and industry actors are jointly implementing ambitious and challenging R&D programs that provide conditions for successful knowledge transfer between these two sectors.

What are the sectors where this transfer is or is going to be particularly significant in the near future?

Our world is changing faster than never before. Digitalization, climate change, increasing population of the world are just examples of the factors that will change our life in the future. Self-driving electric cars, smart-grid energy systems, automated factories, replacing plastic with polymers and providing people a reasonable quality of life are huge challenges for out societies. The solutions to these kind of problems cannot be found if there is not a good collaboration culture between science and business. On the other hand, this interaction is simply getting more and more important in all sectors due to the rapidly growing complexity of the challenges our societies are facing the future.

What is the role of the European Union in promoting technological and innovation policy to achieve a positive economic and social impact? What could be done better?

European Union is a key facilitator of technological and innovation. The long tradition of public/private partnerships has played an important role in the process of promoting European competitiveness. However, some problems are also identified. Sometimes the collaboration and coordination of the European programs as well as with the national programs have not been sufficient leading to a fragmented portfolio of knowledge transfer. This is a general problem of the European R&D landscape. It is quite fragmented and it is sometimes very difficult for companies to identify where to find best knowledge and partners. Modern technology would allow countries and the European Union to develop European wide knowledge maps, which would include information about knowledge and potential partners when new initiatives are designed.

Does the new Horizon Europe program go in the right direction?

The new program is in principal going into the right direction. However, the contribution and involvement of European industry is still quite weak. This is a major concern because industrial companies usually have a clear understanding of the future challenges and opportunities. Therefore, their active participation in the planning of the next Horizon is critical for the European competitiveness and prosperity in the future. Many companies build a vision of the future and design a roadmap how to reach the objectives and capture the opportunities associated with the vision. This involvement would significantly help public/private collaboration and knowledge transfer in the future.

Moving on to ESOF2020, an important part of the Forum program will be dedicated to "Science to Business". In your opinion, why entrepreneurs, businesspersons, policy makers cannot miss this event?

The ESOF2020 conference is a good opportunity to have a better understanding of the importance of science and business interaction. It will also open up the dialogue on the best practice of public/private partnerships and illustrate the high potential of this interaction. Good cases of successful collaboration clearly show that both science and industrial innovation can benefit significantly from good collaboration where trust and long-term relationships have a significant role.



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