Academics’ engagement and the valorization of research results: the case of the University of Bologna

Rosa Grimaldi
University of Bologna

Giuseppe Conti
University of Bologna

Collaborative University-Industry relations have generated unquestionably real economic effects, in terms of creation of new products, new processes, new innovative capabilities, new options, new knowledge and new networks in research or production. In line with this, for many universities worldwide academics’ engagement has become over the years a priority.

In this vein, this paper aims at presenting the strategies and actions implemented at the University of Bologna in order to favor university-industry relations, the economic valorization of research results and, more broadly speaking, generate impact through academics’ engagement in two main forms:
a) relations with established corporates;
b) research-based spin-off creation.
The case that we present illustrates the strategy, internal organization, actions and their main outcomes.

Defining the context: the University of Bologna
The University of Bologna – the oldest home of free teaching founded in 1088– is a multi-secular generalist public Italian university, the second largest in the country with 85,244 students, 2,781 faculty and 2,975 staff. Its 32 Departments offer 92 undergraduate degrees, 110 graduate degrees and 41 PhD programs covering all fields of studies from arts to medicine. Since 1989 it operates through a multi-campus structure, with courses and facilities in five locations in the Emilia Romagna Region.

The University is a pioneer at national level in terms of University IPR and knowledge transfer. The University of Bologna established its first IPR office in the late 1990s. It was subsequently transformed into a Knowledge Transfer Office (KTO), working specifically on IP protection and enhancement of patents and spinoffs. The KTO works in strict contact with AlmaCube, the business incubator of the University of Bologna.

New actions in support of academics’ engagement and research results valorization
In 2015 with a new rector and a new governance the university of Bologna started a new deal characterized by great attention to academic entrepreneurship in its different forms.
The university decided to invest in a new internal organization to address university-industry engagement with a twofold objective:
a) increase the number of institutional university-industry agreements;
b) increase the valorization of research results through the creation of spin-off companies. Two separate sub-units/divisions.

With regard to the first objective, even though the university had few institutional agreements, most of the exchanges with industry were the outcome of single individual academics or departments interactions.
There was the belief that, for universities to be effective with industry engagement, it was important to create institutional conditions, an institutional frame providing (on the one hand) directions to individuals willing to be involved and (on the other hand) maximizing interrelations across several activities and managing them in a central way, coordinated way.
Overall the new approach brought benefits in terms of: raising more opportunities for the entire research community; creating a portfolio of different activities and contributions stemming from different departments and disciplines at the same time; reducing bureaucracy and speeding up the process; favoring conditions for long term relationship based on trust; reducing overall transactions costs.

As concerns the second objective, the new division was in charge of implementing several new activities in line with a brand-new strategy in support of academic entrepreneurship. Below we provide a brief summary of the main novelties implemented:
- In 2017 she started AlmaEClub to increase the awareness on entrepreneurship and promote a focused networking on the matter among its faculties More that 200 faculty members coming from all Departments join AlmaEClub, getting together every other month to share ideas (and contribute) on specific projects in entrepreneurship carried out in the University.
- A new PhD summer school will be started in 2018 aimed at raising entrepreneurial awareness among PhD students.
- The university is joining the Launch Pad program targeting PhD students with the aim to assist students in developing new research-based lines of business.
- Two Proof of Concept funding will be launched in 2018 with the aim to increase the technology readiness level of university owned technologies and finalized at their commercial valorization.
- Specific training finalized at helping academics to develop their business starting from their know how and inventions is at place. Mentors and industrial experts are involved to provide specific vertical expertise.
- The incubator Alma Cube is assisting aspiring entrepreneurs in starting up their spin off and creating conditions for their growth through relations with institutional investors at national an international level.
- A brand-new maker space (AlmaLABor) will open by the end of 2018, targeting mainly students and young scholars and offering spaces equipped with different tools for prototyping. AlmaLABor will collaborate with some of the companies which already have institutional long-term agreement with the University of Bologna and are interested in corporate acceleration.
- Furthermore, in 2018 the University launched a Competence Center Industry 4.0 selected by the Ministry of Industry and Economic Development through a competitive call and founded with a grant of € 8ml. The Center will offer dedicated facilities and training activities to companies, and will be involved in the implementation of innovation projects, industrial research and experimental development on innovative technologies such as Big Data, Industrial Internet of Things, Industrial Cloud systems, Cyber Security, robotics and additive manufacturing (3D printing).