How to transform research into societally effective innovations

Collaboration between researchers and companies can be a fruitful way to turn research findings into societally relevant innovations. It also helps to keep our universities up and running.

Your research findings are probably effective within your scientific community. They raise questions, start conversations and maybe even give birth to further research. But if you want your findings to be effective on a larger scale, they have to be relevant to the rest of the society. Your research has to be useful to and have a direct impact on someone or something.

For a researcher teaming up with a company and creating research based innovations is a way of increasing the effectiveness of their work. With the help of the right company a research proposal can be transformed into a product or service, for example. In return, collaboration gives companies access to the latest research information and results.

“Research information can be used in a concrete way thanks to companies”, says Joel Takala, Senior Advisor at Helsinki University Business Collaboration Services for Researchers.

Research innovations benefit the whole society

Reijo Salonen, Senior Vice President of Pharmaceutical Research and Development and Chief Medical Officer at Orion Corporation thinks collaboration between universities and the industry should be self-evident. The researcher and the company aren’t the only ones benefiting from working together. Society does too.

“In a small country like Finland all ideas that have potential should be refined into innovations in a nationally relevant way. This creates export industry which in turn results in export income. With that income we can keep funding universities”, Salonen explains.

The university-industry partnership is more common in some fields than others. Medicine is a good example of a field where research collaboration is more a norm than an exception. Orion participates in over a hundred university collaborations, most of them outside of Finland. The company cooperates with all Finnish technical universities as well as universities that have a faculty of medicine or pharmacy.

“It’s impossible to function in the medicine industry today without any university collaboration. Nearly all research findings that have commercializing potential stem from universities”, says Reijo Salonen from Orion.

Cooperation with the industry can even be a must for research in some contexts. For example projects funded by Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, aim to create new business activity and employment in Finland. This requires that research is conducted together with companies right from the start.

Building trust on shared values

So, we know that collaboration between universities and the business world can be a great opportunity for researchers, companies, universities and even the whole country. But how do you actually start a partnership with the other side?

According to Joel Takala researchers should directly contact companies they’d like to partner up with. Think about the commercializing potential your research has: What kind of business could you generate from the knowledge you have? Which companies are working on similar issues as you?

“The collaboration begins with a conversation between the researcher and the company. These two should draft their research interests, identify their next steps and tailor them according to the project”, Joel Takala says.

Reijo Salonen agrees that collaboration should always begin with a conversation. The call for action doesn’t necessarily always have to come from the researcher. Any interested party can take initiative. Whatever the case, building trust between the possible partners is highly important.

“Both should share a common goal – in medicine it is creating treatments for patients in need. This can easily result in a win-win situation. Both the industry and the university want to create something that is based on shared values”, Salonen says.

“The most important thing is to be honest with each other. You have to find out what your possible partner is looking for in the collaboration and also explain what it is that you want to accomplish with it. Hopefully this way you’ll find a path that fits both of you.”


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