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Communicating Research to Industry: Writing a Great Project Summary

– Contributed content –

Man with binoculars

(Alessandro Vallainc, Unsplash)

Editor’s note: The following post is an excerpt from an essay published by IN-PART. The full text of the essay, by Sharon Gill of IN-PART’s research team, may be found on IN-PART’s blog.

4 Nov. 2019. In recent years many companies have expanded their open innovation initiatives, with universities capturing the spotlight as an invaluable source of new technologies and game-changing breakthroughs. However, as part of a global web of science and innovation, it can be difficult for academics to get their research in front of the right people in industry. Attracting interest from relevant research and development (R&D) professionals, who often have limited time to evaluate each academic discovery that lands on their desk, is a challenge. Effectively communicating science to industry is crucial to the successful commercialization of university research.

What information do R&D teams look for in a project summary?

In most cases, translating an academic breakthrough into a new product, medicine or technological solution can’t be done without collaborating with industry. In universities, the office of technology transfer (TTO) or research commercialization (ORC) will be tasked with the responsibility for making sure the right people in industry are alerted to relevant discoveries.

Getting the attention of R&D professionals involves cleverly packaging up complex scientific ideas and inventions into easily-digestible summaries. These project summaries, also known as technology disclosures, are designed so that an R&D professional can conduct a quick initial review to assess first, whether it’s relevant to their current research priorities, and then second, if it presents a unique solution to one of their R&D requirements.

To better understand what information is essential to include in a technology disclosure, in our annual survey we asked the R&D professionals who use IN-PART‘What is the most valuable piece of information for your assessments of whether a breakthrough or new technology from academia is relevant to your company?’. Three key elements came up in almost all of the responses we received:

  • Stage of development, or technology readiness level (TRL)

Explicitly stating the project’s current stage of development gives R&D teams an indication of how much — if any — work is required to incorporated it into the company’s R&D pipeline. It also allows the R&D team to assess whether they have the capacity to invest in testing/validation, prototyping, and further development.

Collaborating with a university requires a significant investment of time and resources for a company. Given the right opportunity, it’s worth the investment, but an academic breakthrough might be dismissed outright without the essential information about its stage of development.

  • Potential applications

For an invention to progress to being an innovation it has to be applied to create, or be implemented into, a product that holds market appeal. This potential is key to the decisions taken by R&D teams to in-license a technology, or to collaborate with the university to further develop the innovation.

Although academic researchers might be looking for companies to designate their own specific applications for their breakthrough, we have found that R&D teams like to see some sort of vision for the technology in its final form, with suggestions about how the technology might be used in those applications.

  • Cost-benefit and market analysis

What makes a new technology or breakthrough advantageous over an existing one? We learnt that providing an indication of the competitive landscape is essential to make it clear how a new breakthrough offers technical benefits over currently available technologies. In addition, giving a brief, informed indication of the market demand and economic value of a technology provides an incentive for R&D professionals to take the time to evaluate an opportunity further. Also, R&D teams can sometimes be willing to shift focus from their core interests if it’s clear for them to see the potential economic value of the technology for their company.

. . . .

About IN-PART: IN-PART is an online matchmaking platform that simplifies the initial connection between academia and industry to establish partnerships that get breakthroughs out of the lab and onto the market.

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