Cooperation between research organizations and business brings good results, which is also confirmed by the experience of the Consortium for Technology Transfer from Public Research Organizations to the Economy (KTT). Cooperation between the University of Maribor and business partners has resulted in numerous examples of good practice, including one of the most important achievements of Slovenian science—the first Slovenian satellite TRISAT, which was successfully launched into space.
We spoke to Peter Alešnik, Head of the Knowledge and Technology Transfer Office at the University of Maribor, about the challenges researchers face in commercializing innovative ideas.
Read what we talked about in the interview.
Could you give a brief overview of the Consortium for Technology Transfer from Public Research Organizations (KTT)? What should those who do not know you know about you?
The KTT is a consortium of technology transfer offices of the University of Maribor, the Jožef Stefan Institute, the University of Ljubljana, the University of Primorska, the National Institute of Biology, the Slovenian Institute of Chemistry, the Slovenian Agricultural Institute and the Faculty of Information Studies in Novo mesto. The KTT aims to establish a consortium that will bring together the offices of the public research organizations in the whole of Slovenia. We are extremely grateful to the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport of the Republic of Slovenia for identifying and addressing this gap through a public call for tender. The investment is co-financed by the Republic of Slovenia and the European Union from the European Regional Development Fund. The tasks of the Consortium for Technology Transfer from Public Research Organizations include strengthening links and new synergies in the innovation system, strengthening cooperation between public research organizations and industry, supporting the commercialization of scientific solutions already developed and stimulating demand, and developing of competences. The team at the UM currently consists of 10 outstanding collaborators who are ready to help you in your future development.
How well is the transfer of knowledge and technology to the economy and the social environment taking place in practice in the CEE region?
At the University of Maribor, in line with our mission and vision, we want to contribute to solving societal challenges in the local and global environment. In our efforts to maximize the transfer of knowledge, we want to contribute to the innovation ecosystem of the Eastern Slovenia Cohesion Region in line with the Slovenian Development Strategy 2030. We also want to actively participate in the creation of regional development policy and contribute to the development of the economy through the integration of research and development infrastructure into the local environment. Although we are extremely keen on successfully transferring knowledge and technologies into the economic and social environment, we face a number of challenges.
How do you assess the state of innovation and new idea development in the CEE region?
In my opinion, the field of innovation and new idea development has a very high potential in our region, but the intensity of R&D investment activity is relatively weak, which is mainly due to the overall R&D development of the economy. In fact, if we compare our region with other regions in Slovenia, we can see that the Podravska region ranks only 8th among the 12 Slovenian statistical regions in terms of the overall creativity index. We are pleased to see that, despite this, we have several outstanding companies in the region (the following are certainly among the PODIM conference participants) that are competitive in regional and global value chains. The University of Maribor, as the main creator of innovation potential in the region, wants to improve this significantly in the future and encourage new investments in innovation and the development of new ideas.
How do you encourage innovation and the development of new ideas in companies, researchers and students?
At the Knowledge and Technology Transfer Office, we are aware of the importance of fostering innovation and the development of new ideas, which is why we organize various training, courses and events for researchers to address the development of innovation and entrepreneurship competences, the importance of protecting intellectual property rights, and to create opportunities for networking and contacts between academics and business people or entrepreneurs. Students and researchers are also offered various opportunities for cooperation with economic partners, as well as (international) programs in which they can develop their innovation competences (PKP, ŠIPK, DEMOLA, etc.), and in 2020/2021 we also launched the Innovation Fund for the students of the University of Maribor, which supported the 4 most prolific and innovative groups of students. In the time frame 2021-2030, the University of Maribor aims to make a significant contribution to accelerating the transfer of knowledge and technology at local, regional and global levels and to offer quality services to all stakeholders, drawing on its strategic priority areas. The Knowledge and Technology Transfer Service also helps companies to innovate and enter foreign markets through the international Enterprise Europe Network, as well as in the area of digital transformation through the Digital Innovation Hub of the University of Maribor (DIH UM). We also provide companies with information on intellectual property, development opportunities and networking with the research sphere.
The Challenge Is Entering the Market
In your experience, what are the biggest challenges that researchers, students and entrepreneurs face when entering the market?
In my experience, researchers and students often have excellent and innovative ideas and solutions, but the challenge is how to get them to the market. Typically, they/we have questions about how to commercialize the idea or solution, i.e., in what form (license, sale of rights, start-up, a spin-off company, etc.), how to protect their intellectual property, how to contact potential business partners who would be willing to cooperate and, last but not least, how to present their idea or solution effectively. All of these challenges are successfully addressed by the Knowledge and Technology Transfer Service, together with our researchers.
Could you share some advice on how to successfully bring an innovative idea or solution to the market?
The first prerequisite for a successful market entry is, of course, the innovativeness of the idea or proposed solution. However, an innovative idea or solution alone is not enough. I would advise companies to take advantage of the opportunities offered by knowledge and technology transfer offices at universities (e.g. match-making events, personal consultations, etc.), which are the link between academia and business and have a wide network of stakeholders from both spheres. Also invite students and researchers to participate in the training and workshops we are organizing, where they will be trained in how to identify potential and effectively present their knowledge or technology to potential business partners. Often, the success of a market entry depends on the presentation of an idea or a solution. In all this, it is always a good idea to consider 4 factors beforehand: N (=need); A (=approach), B (=benefit) and C (=competition). Let us consider how our idea or solution addresses each of these, as this will be useful in the next steps when we want to enter the market.
You help researchers and students at the University of Maribor to protect and commercialize their expertise, technologies and ideas. How do you help them to do this?
The Knowledge and Technology Transfer Service helps researchers and students at the University of Maribor to achieve greater visibility and impact of their R&D results, which are increasingly important factors in obtaining funding. The main tasks of the Knowledge and Technology Transfer Service include managing the procedures for the acquisition of service inventions, evaluating inventions suitable for protection and identifying their market potential, strategic advice on intellectual property management, management and protection of intellectual property rights, raising awareness of the importance of innovative technologies developed at the UM, assistance in concluding licensing and other agreements related to intellectual property, etc. Through its activities, the Knowledge and Technology Transfer Service makes a significant contribution to the third mission of the University of Maribor, i.e. to contribute to the development of society and economic progress in the region and the wider environment.
Slovenia’s First TRISAT Satellite Is the Result of a Successful Collaboration
Could you highlight an example of good practice?
Our office works closely with researchers from different faculties who are very active and successful in the field of innovation. We have a relatively large number of examples of good practice and high-profile inventions at the University of Maribor, so it is ungrateful to highlight just one. As an example, in the current multi-month support program, we have 5 teams of researchers, each of whose inventions represent an extremely high potential. We have a very good feeling about each one of them, and I believe that all the technologies will find commercial partners and thus survive their contact with the market. I would, however, like to highlight one example where the knowledge and technology were out of this world, literally. This is a remarkable achievement of Slovenian science, technology and business, as we have ventured into space, developed breakthrough technologies for this purpose, pushed the boundaries of miniaturization on a global scale and laid the foundations for new opportunities. After more than a decade of research and development, Slovenia’s first TRISAT satellite, designed, manufactured and assembled entirely in Slovenia, was successfully launched into space together with the Slovenian company SkyLabs, marking an important milestone in the history of the Slovenian nation and placing us among the space-faring nations.
INNOV:UM to Support Breakthrough Ideas
With the INNOV:UM platform, you are strengthening the innovation-entrepreneurial ecosystem to support breakthrough activities of innovative individuals and companies in the Eastern Slovenia Cohesion Region. What kind of activities are involved?
As you mentioned, with the INNOV:UM platform, the University of Maribor, in cooperation with partners, takes responsibility for strengthening the innovation-entrepreneurial ecosystem to support breakthrough activities of innovative individuals and high-tech companies in the Eastern Slovenia Cohesion Region. It consists of three pillars, namely the innovation and entrepreneurship support pillar, the infrastructure pillar and the research and development pillar. Our activities aim to better support the most challenging and promising projects for the commercialisation of knowledge and technologies in high-tech enterprises in the Eastern Slovenia Cohesion Region, as we believe that there is a huge potential in the region that needs to be retained and channelled towards value-added and development.
After two years, Podim will once again bring everyone together for an in-person event and 1:1 meetings. Who do you want to meet at Podim?
I am delighted that we will once again have the opportunity to attend PODIM in person after two years. My colleagues and I have invited our researchers from the different faculties we work closely with to join us at the event, as well as colleagues from other Knowledge and Technology Transfer Offices. Above all, we would like to meet potential business partners who can benefit from the introduction of UM technologies in their global breakthrough, and other outstanding participants.
Is there anything else you wish to say to other PODIM attendees?
I look forward to meeting you, and I believe that together we will create (another) successful PODIM.