From the Lab to the Market Place
Springboard (formerly the Atlantic Research Commercialization Network) is another example of the trend in research towards collaboration.
Formed in the spring of 2004 as a link between university research and the private sector in Atlantic Canada, Springboard's aim is to encourage economic growth through the commercialization of university-based research and development. Other regions in the nation have had success in forming similar collaborative networks such as Westlink in Western Canada and Le Bleu in Quebec.
David King, president and CEO of Memorial's Genesis Group, said that the network consists of 13 universities from Atlantic Canada who are pooling their resources to build on their economic and research capacity. “We've come together to achieve the critical mass essential to success,” said Mr. King. “This becomes obvious when you realize that the total research dollars available in all Atlantic universities equals the size of the research budget of the University of Alberta. “Some of the universities in the network already had existing experts and technology transfer programs. However, with the formation of Springboard, we are able hire specialists in strategic disciplines.”
In total the network hopes to have 18 technology transfer specialists who will be geographically dispersed, based at the various member institutions throughout Atlantic Canada but will be accessible to all 13 of the universities in the network. The “experts” will have a specialty area and will be able to assess whether a technology has commercial potential, as well as being knowledgeable about patents and licensing in their area of expertise. Specialists for the region will also be the “generalist” at their host institution.
“Technology transfer is a contact sport and each of the 13 universities will have an officer who ‘walks the halls' to find promising discoveries from any discipline and who works with the regional specialist to evaluate the commercial potential,” said Mr. King. “The network is particularly beneficial to the smaller institutions which will have access to specialized staff services, training and funding programs similar to those available at larger Canadian universities, that they might not have otherwise. “We now have the critical mass to deal with the rest of Canada. In the past there were too many of us and we were all so small. Now suddenly, they know who to talk to,” explained Mr. King. “We can now respond to industry needs proactively. We've gotten the reputation of being out in front on this – we've gone farther than Westlink in terms of having an integrated network.”
Springboard members are finding that this critical mass is opening doors to allow large-scale collaborations and partnerships with groups like NRC and the venture capital community. Springboard gives us a seat at the table to develop national policy regarding innovation and technology commercialization. “There's a real need to change the culture within universities, to educate students in the area of commercialization,” said Mr. King.
During the pilot program Springboard ran a two-year internship program called Network Training Atlantic. Students from the region had six to eight month placements at a university technology transfer office, a venture capital firm and a technology start-up. The network, administered by the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) on behalf of the 12 participating universities, has received $3.6 million in funding for three years from the Atlantic Innovation Fund. A cornerstone for the new network is to build a culture of commercialization in the university community and to orchestrate face to face interaction between university researchers and industry to stimulate collaborative research. The goal of the network is to increase the productivity of Atlantic Canadian companies and to provide them with new technology products which can exploit global markets. The network has been operation on a pilot basis for the last two years and has been able to demonstrate the viability of the concept.