Last month, at my farewell conference in Oslo, Pierre Benayoun, the project manager of the Entente group kindly offered me to write a few words as editorial for the next newsletter, which I happily accepted and hereby follow up.
At the end of my career at ASTP (since this year ASTP-Proton) and looking back on 14 years of facilitating the profession of and its professionals in technology transfer in Europe, I would like to reflect a bit on this first EU-project experience of ASTP and share with you an idea for a different approach to look at the development and strengthening of our profession.
I have been involved with ASTP almost from its very beginning and witnessed the creation and development of Proton Europe The profession has seriously matured over these 14 years. During the first decade of our existence, the attention within ASTP was primarily focused on the individual tech transfer officer, its training and networking. Meanwhile the care for the profession gradually became stronger and developed into a systematic approach that resulted in metrics, certification initiatives, professional tools, position papers and the creation of several small and large scale communities. But being a privately initiated independent association, ASTP was limited in her resources and needed to carefully select between the many ideas that people felt enthusiastic about and thought we should be doing, and often had to say ‘no’.
The Entente project came to ASTP at a perfect time and it was not for nothing that for the very first time in the existence of ASTP we decided to participate in an EU project. Until then we had been reluctant to accept public money since it may have diverted our energies and thus could have a serious impact on the dynamics and (member-focused) passion that are essential for an independent practitioner driven association. We decided to participate in Entente only because the objectives of Entente (creating a European network of knowledge transfer in health) fitted perfectly to the mission of ASTP. The tools that this project is developing on shared learning, promotion of best KT performances, web platform and the impact report; the interaction via staff exchange and partnering events; the toolbox and connection to national associations – all these enable ASTP-Proton to strengthen the services to her members and community building.
After a first period of adapting ourselves to the specific administrative requirements, we have now grown accustomed to the project and daily experience the benefits of this collaboration. Recently at our conference in Oslo, we also noticed that our members are increasingly aware of this project and the benefits and support that it brings them. A great achievement after 1,5 years of operation! Next to that, the collaboration itself with partners in this project has been an increasingly positive experience and a good demonstration how cooperation can lead to win-win situations.
Based on this experience, ASTP-Proton has decided to step into another EU-project by participating in several proposals under the H2020 calls. On this occasion the aim is to create a sustainable and comprehensive strategy for capacity building in TT across Europe; another project that comes close to the very heart of our mission.
Both above mentioned EU-projects (Entente as well as the CBTT call) have in common that they support the individual tech transfer professional as well as the knowledge transfer profession in general and thereby strengthen to what we now have started to call the innovation ‘ecosystem’ in Europe. In addition, both projects officially promote the international collaboration and refer to cross border initiatives. However, it is my personal impression that this all is still being focused on the existing model of individual players and separate organisations and institutions, and therefore provides somehow ‘vertical’ injections in the KT profession; very welcome investments, but not enough. This could very well be completed by a ‘horizontal’ approach: factual out-sourcing TT-activities to other TTO’s or the other way around; delivery of TT expertise to other TTO’s across Europe (or beyond). A cross border collaboration amongst tech transfer offices in Europe could build up a sustainable and attractive work environment, increasing the overall level of TT performances by market driven expertise both at individual as TT office level.
Capacity issues are a structural problem, not only for the newly established or small scaled TT offices. Even our most re-known institutions suffer from capacity problems, since their well-trained people are easily bought out once they are experienced – transferring to start-up companies or leaving the profession for other reasons. A long term answer to the capacity issue requires more than increasing the level of experience of individuals or increasing the number of experienced individuals, all instruments that focus on the individual level. Sustainable capacity building requires a systematic approach to secure a critical mass to bring promising R&D results to the market and making the profession more attractive.
A good example of how this works is given by the university of Reykjavik: with far too few human recourses to cover all required TT-functions, they are very used to outsource projects or hire in manpower (on payment base) from other TTO’s outside Iceland. A handy model, since it enables them to be very flexible. A smart model too, since they can pick from a large variety of TTO’s, thus select the best and thereby secure good operations at their own R&D. A simple model that enhances the level of Technology Transfer in many ways: by buying in the best expertise via selecting TTO’s with specific knowledge and experiences in a specific business-field or TT-process; by offering the TT individual the opportunity to work internationally and train himself in a specific expertise / skillset (again field- or process oriented), which will make his job more attractive and create a bigger career opportunity; by saving energy at own recourses, thereby generating the opportunity to focus on specific expertise and thus creating a market-position for ones’ specific TT-expertise too. Several presentations at the Oslo conference pointed towards this kind of collaboration.
So why is it then that so few TTO’s think of this capacity model and what does it take to encourage this ? Is it because they want to control and keep continuity or fear competition? Probably a mixture. But time is there to start thinking of this as a realistic and pragmatic solution. While collaboration between TTO’s of various universities within one and the same country often suffer from competitive elements and emotions (either at TTO or stakeholders level), cross border collaboration has an element of prestige and often is perceived as less competitive. With our growing international community and increasing social media opportunities, the control and continuity element will become less of a problem: it is increasingly easy to closely work together with people abroad. Besides which, it is great fun to work together with people from other countries, especially with like-minded people who share the same passion, meet the same challenges and went through similar developments.
More than financial injection this requires first of all a mentality change. No doubt ASTP-Proton can play a role in this, by continuing to offer platforms, creating special interest groups where peers can (virtually) meet, but most of all, by continuing to facilitate meeting places where people feel at home with and confident to open up; where people meet with the same passion and experience the fun to work together and contribute to the profession. Conferences as business opportunities for TTO-collaboration. Looking at Europe as one big market place where continuity is secured on a large scale, with many TTO’s operating in specific fields, and collaborating in healthy competition with each-other, all serving the same goal - wouldn’t that be fun ?
Editorial from Newsletter 4, June 2014