Call to encourage academic engagement with deep tech entrepreneurship

01 Jun 2023 | News

As a body representing more than 50 of Europe’s leading science and technology universities, CESAER wants to see EU institutions and local and national governments provide better support to scientists in commercialising their research

The EU and its institutions should better acknowledge the pivotal role that science and technology universities play in driving deep tech innovation, according to the university lobby group CESAER, which is calling for more support to ensure deep tech entrepreneurship at universities is fostered within the wider innovation ecosystem.

Deep tech innovation depends not only on intensive, long term research, it also requires significant capital investment to get it to market. Europe is the source of much excellent science but has traditionally been less than excellent in translating it into high value products. However, there has been more focus on addressing this in recent years. The former research commissioner Mariya Gabriel put deep tech at the core of her initiative, the New European Innovation Agenda and it is also the theme of ‘Deep tech entrepreneurship for an innovative, resilient, and competitive internal market’, a conference taking place today and tomorrow, hosted by the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU.

For Europe to capitalise on deep tech entrepreneurship, there needs to be better engagement with science and technology universities, on a regional, national and European level, CESAER’s position paper says.

“Generally speaking, EU institutions don’t really promote the important role that science and technology universities play in deep tech innovation,” said Louise Drogoul, adviser for innovation and sustainability at CESAER.

“There is a lot of talk about involving universities, but in terms of advocacy power we’re not always considered equals to the market,” she said.

Marketable products

Among the 15 recommendations to improve the involvement of science and technology universities in deep tech entrepreneurship CESAER wants to see the European Innovation Council given a greater role.

One suggestion for doing this is the creation of an ‘EIC Young Innovator’ funding scheme to support commercialisation. CASAER also wants more funding for EIC’s Transition scheme, which supports researchers in commercialising new technologies.

The European Commission recently reorganised the management structure of EIC so that parts of the programme are now be overseen directly by the Commission. This change could make things clearer in terms of structure, but Drogoul said, “we will have to wait and see" whether it does lead to the EIC having a bigger role in fostering innovation through universities.

Several of CESAER’s other recommendations relate to better training for researchers to help them navigate the complexities of commercialisation. That is not just a recommendation for EU institutions and local and national governments, but also for universities themselves. This includes improving support within universities, such as in house incubators and technology transfer offices.

Drogoul said that universities are often “humble”, which affects their ability to commercialise their research. “They have the knowledge, they have the solutions, but they often don’t know how to capitalise on it and use it for society,” she said.

A start-up founder at one of CESAER’s member universities told the association that their success was based on the university offering support through its innovation centre. ‘’I had the mindset many scientists have: they have great ideas, they do great research but they are not sure they can make a business out of the research,” the founder said.

“My co-founder had experience in the specific industry but it is something different when someone guides you on how to negotiate with customers, how to plan, how to build a product and validate your business model.”

People power

Many deep tech products can trace their roots back to basic research carried out at universities. This is a real asset that universities possess in terms of contributing to deep tech entrepreneurship. “It is the people that make universities special,” Drogoul said. “They serve as a bridge between society, industry, policymakers and people.”

CESEAR also wants universities to think about the benefits investing in innovation brings to them. “It’s a back and forth system,” Drogoul said, with researchers who make the leap to business usually coming back to their universities for projects. “We encourage universities to think about this bridge, when you foster innovation, you get the benefits.”

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