For decades policy practitioners around the globe have agreed on the ambition that industry and science should cooperate more closely to speed up the process of finding innovative answers to pressing problems of society. And as we currently experience worldwide: it has never been more urgent to foster this interaction of different actors then today. Solving societal challenges, like the current Covid-19 pandemic, requires a fast translation of scientific advances or breakthroughs into innovative remedies, products and processes.
The current situation shows the necessities for a strategic rethink to force the pace and implementation of this aspired transformation towards innovation leadership with a view to Europe, particularly with a view to infection research, life and material science. Competence in these different scientific areas already exists at Research Technology Organisations, universities, and research infrastructures or directly in companies. However, at this very moment there is the need to empower a new dedicated actor that can bridge gaps within the innovation system in an even more efficient, cost-effective and anticipatory manner. This actor comes in a number of guises like intermediaries, service providers, contract research organisation (CRO) or commercial analytical research organisation (CARO). But despite these different titles – as a systemic actor serving the innovation system as a whole – they have a few characteristics in common:
They are profit-seeking micro and small sized private companies acting as an intermediary between research infrastructures and industrial customers, providing targeted support and consultation based on analytical research and measurement services in a variety of fields on a contractual basis.
The change agent Europe needs right now
Most CAROs are highly specialized in a certain research area, material system or measuring method. Due to their high degree of specialization they are internationally sought-after, as they act as absolute specialist experts in their area. In parallel their role and position in their region is a key lever in value creation within several areas of regional economic development (e.g. tax flow, providing highly skilled jobs, avoiding brain drain) as well as knowledge transfer (e.g. establishing international as well as local networks and acting as local role models).
CAROs often use research equipment at universities, research infrastructures and even companies to remain flexible and bind less capital. The effort of the universities, research infrastructures and companies to obtain and support these CAROs and the associated use by industry is comparable low, since the employees of the CAROs generally know the equipment and analytical methods and use them repeatedly.
According to research by an international team of representatives of large research infrastructures, funding agencies, universities and foundations within the CAROTS project funded by INTERREG there are very few established businesses in this area of expertise in Europe so far. Because of the rather traditional set up of the science and innovation systems, CAROs have hardly been visible to investors, funding agencies and politicians alike. However, they might just be the change agent Europe needs right now to enhance its innovation capacity!
CAROTS wants to improve conditions for this type of industrial research start-ups along with greater visibility, better knowledge transfer and by attracting entrepreneurs and venture capitalists for support. In a newly published series of intermediary company portraits one can now meet these pioneers and find out what made them excel. https://www.carots.eu/carots_intermediary_company_portraits/