Research as a lever towards a knowledge-based economy – Conclusions from 100xCiencia.2

  • 100xCiencia.2 conclusions on knowledge and technology transfer (KTT) released on new position paper
  • SOMMa institutions are active participants and generators of KTT, in collaboration with multiple collaborating actors
  • Stability, investment and a supportive environment: requirements for successful KTT

100xCiencia is a forum where Severo Ochoa (SO) and María de Maeztu (MM) research centres and units gather, addressing topics related to Spanish research and its impact. The first edition took place in La Palma (Canary Islands) in 2015, and put an emphasis on the communication of science. The next edition, 100xCiencia.3, will take place next November in Madrid, where expectedly close to 50 SOMMa institutions will gather.

Previous 100xCiencia.2 meeting: “Co-creating Value in Scientific Research”.
Previous 100xCiencia.2 meeting: “Co-creating Value in Scientific Research”.

The previous edition, 100xCiencia.2: Co-Creating Value in Scientific Research, was hosted by the Instituto de Neurociencias (IN), in Alicante (Spain). Discussions took place about knowledge and technology transfer, its requirements, implications for society, and what is the state of the matter at SO and MM institutions. From their conclusions, the position paper “La investigación científica como palanca hacia una economía del conocimiento” is here presented (text in Spanish). The main points of the text are extracted, from which the resulting adaptation follows next.

Knowledge and technology transfer

Knowledge and technology transfer (KTT) comprises a range of collaboration activities beneficial to the actors involved: the transfer of experience and know-how, of physical and intellectual property, the exchange of good practice, or even the more spectacular transfer of game-changing breakthroughs. This often includes an exchange of economic resources, further supporting new developments. In fact, a multidirectional exchange or co-creation is to be the core of a successful and sustainable collaboration. Technological advances become more widely distributed, and available for further development. Ultimately, those translate into business ideas eventually reaching the marked.

The involved parties include universities, research institutions and hospitals, as well as technological and industrial companies. KTT originates a driving force supporting economic growth and generating tangible benefits for society. For businesses, it can become a profitable –albeit often risky- venture. For researchers, it can provide new perspectives, leading to new research approaches, as well as some welcome extra resources. For society, it should become a source of increased development and well-being. To this regard, 100xCiencia.2 participants attest that they are net contributors indeed.

KTT and the SO-MM centres and units

KTT is a relevant aspect in all of the SO and MM research institutions. Collaborations with businesses and hospitals are ongoing, as well as the creation of spin-offs, the patenting of inventions and patent licensing, or the establishment of personnel exchanges for training purposes.

Different approaches and emphasis points characterise the KTT activities of each particular institution. The dominant activities, to that regard, depend heavily on the main scientific area, and the approach to research of the institution. What is the drive behind projects and activities? Does it develop challenge-driven, or rather curiosity-driven research? Is it mainly an applied research institution, or, on the contrary, a more basic-research-oriented institution?

Whatever the case, KTT is an eminently long-term activity that starts with fundamental research. From it, building blocks for increasingly applied advances become available. Basic research remains, without a shade of doubt, the foundation of future technologies to come.

Starting from basic research, knowledge generated ultimately results in new patents, licenses, and spin-offs. With favourable luck, thorough planning and a good business idea, eventually investors flock towards the nascent companies with the largest potential. Finally, new goods and services may reach the market, to the benefit of society at large.

Recommendations and conclusions arising from 100xCiencia.2

The process of research and its translation to services and products is long and arduous. 100xCiencia.2 participants stressed that, during that process, the context in which the value chain develops should remain as stable and predictable as possible. Such conditions are needed to favour not only research itself, but also the transfer of the generated knowledge. Failing to provide stability will fall short of generating the confidence required for investors to risk their capital in possibly fruitful, but still uncertain initiatives.

As the position paper raises, the measure of the success of an institution in KTT should focus on the impact it generates, rather than on the revenues from royalties. This stems partly from the fact that direct economic returns are only a marginal part of the income of research institutions. In addition, royalty revenues tend to come from only a small portion of all patents held. The social return, however, is immense: thousands of companies founded and many more highly qualified jobs created.

As concluded from the analysis of notorious cases of success, a number of conditions need to be met to develop a favourable, healthy KTT environment:

-Firstly, most of the research in the academia should be financed via public funding, obtained through competitive calls.

-Next, there is a need for the inflow of high-risk investment from the industry, which should be stimulated.

-Third, for spin-offs to successfully bridge the gap between academia and business, a dedicated support environment for KTT needs to be in place. Such a support network would offer resources, training and the possibility to establish relevant connections or find funding.

As stressed in the paper, an increase in Spain from the currently modest investment of 1.19 % of GDP in science to 2.03 % (the average in Europe) would be clearly beneficial. Increased scientific output and more synergies would arise, particularly if the KTT ecosystem is stimulated.

In addition to the previous, research institutions need the resolute support of government institutions, and an appropriate regulatory framework. Legislation considering the particularities of research is needed, as was outlined in previous actions by SOMMa, resulting yet in some legislative successes.

Group picture of participants in 100xCiencia.2 in front of the host institution, the Instituto de Neurociencias de Alicante.
Group picture of participants in 100xCiencia.2 in front of the host institution, the Instituto de Neurociencias de Alicante.

Failing to translate research into benefits for society owing to an inappropriate transfer environment risks making the existing investment less relevant. In the current international context, in which the centre of gravity of world economy is moving away from Western countries, Spain and Europe can hardly afford this. As a result, investing into a healthy and dynamic research and KTT ecosystem would be a strategically sound decision in favour of a better future for science, economy and society in Spain.