Science parks: a bridge between research and business
Public-private partnerships and ecosystems for innovation are at the heart of ESOF 2020's Science to Business Programme. These are topics that are important for the activity carried out by science parks. For this reason, we spoke to Fabrizio Conicella, President of APSTI - the Italian Association of Science and Technology Parks - and General Manager of the Bioindustry Park "Silvano Fumero" in Turin (Italy). For over 20 years, he has been involved in the management of research projects, technology transfer, start-up and business support initiatives as well as internationalization processes.
We often talk about the gap between academia and industry. What role can scientific-technological parks play in this context?
The innovation process often begins as a result of academic research to meet a concrete need through a series of stages requiring specialized skills and places capable of connecting the links in this chain. The aim of the University is to expand knowledge, but also to identify optimal exploitation paths for the most promising scientific results. This process is the so-called technology transfer, achievable - for instance - through university incubators where start-ups are born. The scientific parks appear in the next step: once a company is established, a place is needed in which it can grow, foster partnerships, create prototypes and yet, also allow the scale-up of production to reach the market.
What is the current status of Italian and European science parks? What are the strengths and weaknesses compared to the rest of the world?
In Italy, there are around forty science and technology parks that were mainly established between the beginning of the 1980s and the end of the 1990s. In recent years, the sharp decline in available public funds has led to a revision of the business models of Italian parks, with more attention being paid to economic sustainability and the consequent need to activate partnerships with the private sector to acquire new sources of financing. This has led to the development of a series of activities that are much more complex than the mere attraction of innovative companies, such as the creation of innovative service platforms that are made available to both public and private entities, inside and outside the science park. This transition, from a pure physical place to a system in which it is possible to take advantage of a series of services, has taken place practically in Europe and throughout the world.
Technology parks are one of the natural ecosystems for "science to business". How can industry and the scientific world dialogue more profitably and with what advantages?
The parks, by definition, are cultural intermediaries, used to talking with the academic university world and collaborating with the business world. These are actors who have different timelines, objectives and performance gauges, among which the science parks act as bridges in order to be useful to business by bringing together training activities, research skills and the needs of the industrial world. At the same time, from the University's point of view, they enhance its scientific results by establishing contact with the industrial world.
What contribution can science parks make at an event like ESOF?
There can be contributions on three levels. Parks are information multipliers and can help to make sense of the extent of such an event. Instead of the related content connected to the relationship between academia and industry, parks can guarantee a significant impact as they are witnesses of the development and business model of a given territory or a certain technological area. Finally, all parks are part of international networks and therefore, can be a vehicle for disseminating ESOF's core themes, even in very distant contexts.