Grants awarded to boost the commercial value of university research

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Research England has awarded grants, worth £1.5 million, to support two programmes working to increase the economic value and social impacts derived from university research, both internationally and in the UK.

To be administered by the University of Cambridge these grants, from the Research England Development (RED) Fund, support two programmes: TenU and a new Policy Evidence Unit for University Commercialisation and Innovation (UCI).

TenU will look to share expertise and experience to develop, improve, and disseminate best practice in research commercialisation. UCI will undertake research to create the evidence base for informing research commercialisation policy for government and universities. The two groups will work closely in areas of mutual interest.

TenU brings together the leading technology transfer offices (TTOs) at ten top universities Cambridge (UK), Columbia (USA), Edinburgh (UK), Imperial College London (UK), Leuven (Belgium), Manchester (UK), MIT (USA), Stanford (USA), Oxford (UK), and University College London (UK), in order to share and develop improved approaches to commercialising university research for societal and economic benefit.

As the world works to rebuild its economies in the wake of COVID-19, university TTOs are seen as having a critical role in turning early-stage, research-based innovations into new products and services across many different sectors. In the UK, the Industrial Strategy has identified universities as key drivers of innovation. In the US similar policy is embodied in the Return on Investment (ROI) Initiative, led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US Department of Commerce.

The second grant will provide £1.2 million to the University of Cambridge to establish a Policy Evidence Unit for University Commercialisation and Innovation (UCI). This unit will help to drive a step change in universities’ contributions to delivering increased R&D and innovation in the UK.

UCI will be developed in partnership with the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (CSTI) and the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) and will create capacity in the UK to support the needs of UK government departments, funding agencies, and universities for better data, evidence, and expert insights, to develop more effective approaches for university commercialisation and innovation.

With the need for better evidence growing as we move from the immediate COVID-19 pandemic crisis into the longer term economic recovery period, and as the government looks to maximise the value realised from its increasing investments in the research base, universities need to find ways of working with businesses, investors and others to open up opportunities for wealth creation, address emerging innovation challenges, and improve productivity. In order to unlock this potential, governments will have to adapt policies and funding programmes to become key enabling partners in this process.

Working closely with key stakeholders, UCI will be initially focusing on three areas:

  • First, developing an evidence base on how the COVID-19 induced economic crisis is affecting universities’ abilities to contribute to innovation, and identify possible actions to ensure they are able to play a strategic and active role in the national economic recovery.
  • Second, improving understanding of the research-to-innovation commercialisation journeys and examine how policies and university practices could be strengthened to deliver increased value to the UK.
  • Third, advancing the data and metrics available to better capture the performance of universities in delivering economic and social impacts through their commercialisation activities to facilitate more effective benchmarking and evaluation of performance.

UCI will be hosted by CSTI in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering.

David Sweeney, Executive Chair, Research England, said: “In line with the UK Government’s R&D Roadmap, Research England as part of UK Research and Innovation needs to demonstrate we are world class at securing economic and social benefits from research. University technology transfer is at the heart of that.

"Research England funding for TenU will help showcase best practice at the global cutting edge, with the new UCI policy unit providing critical evidence and metrics. We look forward to deepening these international links”.