Supporting commercialisation of research
Published: 23rd October 2023
Our objective for RiEcoLab at UCD was to introduce a resource that could pull together the various supports available from different parts of UCD and make a coherent and systematic offering that supported researchers from the early stage of their research planning right through to commercial outcome. Our primary focus was to re-use existing tools, resources and structures and to supplement them where required with new offerings from RiEcoLab. We wanted to provide a multi-strand approach that would enable researchers and non-academic support staff to develop mutually beneficially skills and knowledge that would result in high quality research outputs.
We identified existing tools and learning supports to develop one of the six RiEcoLab toolkits and based our toolkit on the UCD Impact Canvas. This canvas helps researchers to plan the impact of their research from the very early stages of their research and the same buisness model canvas is also used in our commercialisation training via NovaUCD. We supplemented the impact canvas with additional materials around stakeholder engagement and management using some Irish Universities Association resources and best practices.
The initial focus was on NovaUCD staff and getting their support for and engagement with the RiEcoLab project. As NovaUCD is the main UCD unit responsible for commercialisation it was important to have all the staff on board and supporting the poject. A number of teams from NovaUCD were central to delivering the RiEcoLab project and coordinating their activities to give the centres a cohesive support was important.
Knowledge Transfer Case Managers from NovaUCD were dedicated to the two research centres and they provided coaching, mentoring and hands on support to researchers and non-academic staff in areas including IP, patents, spin outs and licensing. The Education Manager in NovaUCD provided training opportunities on NovaUCD programmes including Bootcamp, Customer Discovery and VentureLaunch programmes. The NovaUCD suite of educational programmes gives training from ideation right through until spin-out/licence. The RiEcoLab toolkits were made available to support the NovaUCD programmes as required.
One of our key learnings is that researchers need to see at the start of their research that there are people, tools and training supports available to take them from idea right through to commercial output. They get confidence and encouragement from understanding that they will be supported and guided every step of the journey. To give them that support it is equally important that non-academic staff are aware of the commercialisation journey and can sign post the researcher to the available resources.
The project had some successes with academics that were involved at various points including Infraprint that was launched in 2022 and is seeking investment in 2023. Carbon Harvesters is another success story that was engaged with RiEcoLab and continues to collaborate with the university since it’s launch. Some other projects fell by the way side with students citing the challenge of completing their PhDs and working with their principals as being priorities over and above commercialisation of their own ideas. It is hoped that the foundational training they received during their time with RiEcoLab will be put to good use later in their academic careers.
The two research centres we chose for the pilot were at the half way point of their initial funding phase so they were well positioned to start looking for commercial applications for their research. Having a cohesive approach to commercialisation of research would also assist their business cases for additional funding. Embedding some of the RiEcoLab project objectives into the business case for the continuation of funding enabled us to get the administration support staff fully bought into the project. Their commitment to helping roll out the training, participate in the training and then assist academics in achieving entrepreneurial or commercialisation outcomes was assured from the start. This was invaluable to the project.
Researchers on all stages of the research journey from Post Docs to Full Professor
Support staff in research centres and in central research and innovation support units
Students at PhD level
A key outcome of the RiEcoLab project at University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland, has been to improve the coordination of commercialisation education for researchers and support staff. The project was coordinated by NovaUCD, UCD’s centre for entrepreneurship and innovation. Before the project different teams in NovaUCD were responsible for delivering interventions and tools to support innovation and entrepreneurship across the academic body but these initiatives were not coordinated or deployed in the most efficient manner which made the landscape somewhat confusing for the academics. Also, the interventions were not targeted at administration / support staff.
We initially focussed on two research centres based in UCD and by the end of the pilot stage of RiEcoLab we had brought a third centre into the living lab as they had heard about the supports provided to the initial two centres and wanted to experience the benefits for themselves.
Key success factors / How to replicate / Sustainability mechanism
A key requirement is to have a joined up coherent and cohesive approach that supports the researcher at every stage of the journey. To do this it is necessary to have the non-academic support staff aware of the project and familiar with the supports available. Starting with the non-academic staff is key to ensuring that when the academics come on board the project the supports are already in place and ready to be activated.
Pulling on existing resources, tools and trainings and combining them in a cohesive strategy is very important to ensuring institutional commitment as it is easier and quicker to embed in the administration framework.
The RiEcoLab project toolkits will remain available on the NovaUCD site and are often suggested to early stage academics as a good place to start their commercialisation journey in a convenient way with the hope that they then move forward to join a NovaUCD commercialisation training program.