By Jes Broeng, Programme Director for Open Entrepreneurship and Director for DTU Entrepreneurship (DTU – Technical University of Denmark)
A Nobel laureate is a brilliant, absent-minded, solitary researcher – according to the traditional image of the academic dream anyway. Fortunately, this is not an accurate reflection of everyday life at the universities, where research is very often carried out in teams and partnerships.
A university has several functions, and one function is to be a development lab for future enterprises. Traditionally, the university approach to transfering knowledge to startups has been for the researcher to take on the role of entrepreneur. Not all researchers are keen to take on this role, however, and success stories are the exception rather than the rule, applying to only a very small percentage of researchers.
More importantly, a large number of researchers do wish to see their research used commercially even though they prefer leaving the management of the commercialisation process to others, concentrating their own efforts on continued university research. To capitalise on this great spinout potential, universities across Denmark, supported by the Danish Industry Foundation, have established the Open Entrepreneurship initiative encouraging and supporting commercialisation teams and partnerships – resembling the modern research process, where research is no longer carried out by an army of one either.
Open Entrepreneurship is based on US experience showing that, when done the right way, bringing entrepreneurs and researchers together will result in the creation of more startups based on research output and new technology. And these startups will transform research into solutions benefitting individuals, society and the environment.
In this connection, it is vital that universities invite entrepreneurs into the universities to meet the researchers and establish a collaboration which will allow both parties to contribute with their main strengths. The point being that the researchers may continue concentrating on their research while leaving the spinout of research output and technology to the entrepreneurs – and avoid being spun out of the universities themselves!
Results are, in effect, achieved through this facilitation of an open relation between university researchers and the business sector. Also, good ideas typically emerge on the frontiers of knowledge, which means that new magic may arise when industry domain knowledge meets the latest technologies from the world of research.
We establish a relation where two parties systematically bring their special competences, from very different worlds, to the table with the common goal of setting up a startup or developing a new business area. This is a lengthy process, and it may take months or even years before the business idea is sufficiently developed and ready for the commercial market.
Since the establishment of Open Entrepreneurship in 2017, it has been instrumental in the formation of +60 startups, and many more are in the pipeline. The Open Entrepreneurship initiative is also part of the life science strategy of the Danish government (adopted in May 2021) with a view to commercialising Danish research outputs and creating new life science growth enterprises and jobs.
Consequently, I see the continued development of an ecosystem encompassing both researchers and entrepreneurs as an exciting next step for the universities. This development is also taking place in other countries and is, therefore, already a competition parameter. Fortunately, Denmark is well on its way.
This article is a part of the magazine ‘From University to Unicorn er et udtryk, der bruges til at beskrive en startup-virksomhed, der har nået en værdiansættelse på 1 milliard dollars eller mere. More 2021’. You can read the full magazine here.