An effective model for Tech and knowledge transfer involving SMEs in Italy

Fabrizio Dughiero
University of Padova - Italy

The transformation from Humboldtian University to University in and for the territory based on the model of American Research Universities, goes through a path in which we can recognize at least three different phases:
• the awareness that the technology and knowledge transfer to the entrepreneurial, cultural and welfare of territory is now mandatory; universities must increasingly be perceived by citizens as a fundamental part of the territory and an added value for it;
• The will to transform this awareness into action through the commercialization of research products in different ways such as collaborations with local companies, through patent licensing, but also pushing PhD students and researchers to create startups or spin-offs from research;
• the University becomes a point of reference for the world of innovation and applied research.
In USA and in some other few countries the universities have already completed this process making basic research the strategic axis both in terms of "exploration", but also, and sometimes primarily, in terms of " exploitation "i.e. translating knowledge and skills created by research into real and current value for economy, innovation and welfare.

Italian Universities are at the beginning of the second phase; it is necessary to accelerate this transformation process to get it soon to play a proactive and stimulating role becoming a reference point for innovation and R&D for small, medium and large companies in our territory.

We absolutely are not able to immediately align our universities with models with which it is difficult to compete, even for the completely different economic and cultural context, such as MIT, Oxford or the University of California, but reading the last annual report on the research of the latter university is important for understanding how the “Third Mission” is conceived in a modern university:

“Research results — spurring the economy
The immediate economic benefit of UC's research enterprise to the state of California is significant, because the research activity itself brings money into the state, and this stimulates the economy when it is spent. A recent study of UC's economic impact determined that for every dollar spent by UC, the state's economy increases by $2.10. The $4.1 billion spent by UC on research multiplies to nearly $9 billion in statewide economic activity, adding jobs and promoting economic growth statewide.
Research frequently leads to innovative technologies and processes that can enhance industries, stimulate economies and even improve health and well-being worldwide.”

Technology transfer is economically convenient and above all, it is not only the prerogative of scientific and technological areas, but is fundamental in medicine and life sciences, in health and in cultural and social well-being in general.

As Enrico Moretti wrote on his famous book “The new geography of Jobs”, “Innovation industries lead to cities where good jobs are concentrated, not only new jobs directly in the innovation sector, but also indirectly in other sectors, especially in local services, and thus affect the local economy much deeper of what results from their immediate effect. The reason is that attracting a scientist or an IT engineer to a city means triggering a multiplier effect that increases the jobs and salaries of those providing local services”.

The University should act as a catalyst for the territory where they are present, the meeting point for transfer and "hybridization" of knowledge and technology through the creation of real physical hubs of innovation where University, tech start -up, researchers, students and companies work together.
They should be part of the innovation process for cities and industry, sharing competences personnel and knowledge. However, there are a number of barriers preventing systemic collaboration. Business practitioners talk business while scientists talk science and technology. They have different time horizons and understanding of confidentiality and ownership of intellectual property, with high impact factors publications rewarding the research efforts but limiting industrial property. This is even harder when SMEs are concerned as trust, availability and commitment are additional collaboration drivers. The University should have education programs for PhD students, researchers, professors administrative staff in order to improve their attitude to speak with companies; thinking research not only for publishing papers, to increase h-index and number of citations, to find the best impact factor journal for prestigious papers, but also for translating this research in patents, start-up, consulting activity towards SMEs, working together with companies in collaboration research project, to help territory to find a new direction for developing market.
In the full paper the systematic approach to create a real and effective collaboration between University and Industry will be presented with reference to a special region of North-East Italy, fully populated of SMEs with the need to change paradigms to find new and more profitable market by innovation of business, processes and products. The holistic approach deployed by the University of Padova through Unismart Padova Enterprise (Unismart), its in-house for profit company aiming at commercialising intellectual property as well as engaging business in innovation consulting and contract research services enabled by its thousands of researchers and scientists as well as 60,000+ students will be deeply discussed.
The Unismart innovation Community will be presented as the real “open innovation” house, gathering small and large businesses, major banks, venture capital funds, industrial associations and knowledge mediators together with researchers and stidents.
In close collaboration with the University Technology Transfer Office, Unismart project managers are interfacing with “innovation champions” within the Departments.
The paper will finally provide examples of academia-industry deals to concretely present the actual benefits and impact on business and society as a whole.