Are Universities, Tech Transfer Units Open Innovation Losers?


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I recently gave a talk at the Technical University of Denmark. Many of the attendees were university people and at one point we got into a discussion on the role of universities and their tech transfer units in the context of open innovation and innovation ecosystems.

As usual, I was quite frank and I said that universities are at risk of becoming less relevant in the future of innovation. Let me explain why I think so.

In the circles of open innovation, there is quite some focus on becoming the preferred partner of choice within a given ecosystem. Big companies fight each other to gain this position, but universities need to play this game as well as any ecosystem will have their mix of big companies, small companies, startups – and universities.

Many of the experienced open innovation companies (big corporates) even have a dedicated focus towards EACH of these groups and universities need to start realizing that they must not only look good, but also deliver if they want to get involved in the best projects.

I suspect that many universities are still stuck in an old-times mentality or structure making them believe that they can just make their assets publicly known, set the terms and wait for the big companies to come begging for access to their assets. Oh, they are so wrong…

Based a couple of recent discussions with corporate innovation units on this topic, I sense that they are getting increasingly tired of universities and their tech transfer units. They are slow and bureaucratic to deal with and they price their assets much higher than the value seen by the companies thus requiring lots of effort to land reasonable deals.

A key reason for this growing frustration and changing perception is that corporate innovation units have more options today. Open innovation simply give companies more access than ever to the missing pieces that they need in order to bring better innovation to market faster. If they need specific technologies, open innovation intermediaries (i.e. NineSigma and InnoCentive) and their broadening networks in general can deliver what was previously delivered by universities.

Granted, not all big companies do well on this, but they are learning and they are learning fast and I am just not so sure that universities are developing at the same pace.

No, I don’t think that all universities and tech transfer units will be losers in the future of innovation, BUT many will be. The few winners will be those that are able to position their university and tech transfer unit as the preferred partner of choice within their chosen fields.

Let the games begin…

(P.S. This development is actually kind of sad as I think the general society can benefit greatly by having universities contribute as much as possible to the overall innovation efforts.)

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stefan Lindegaard
Stefan is an author, speaker, facilitator and consultant focusing on open innovation, social media tools and intrapreneurship.


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