Meeting place for innovations
What is the key to successful knowledge transfer and innovations? One way to succeed is to bring together people with different expertise to solve problems together. UU Innovation has been one such meeting place for ten years and is an important part of the innovation environment in Uppsala.
“We often say that as long as you find the door, we can show you the way,” says Jenny Nordquist, acting head of UU Innovation.
She welcomes us in one of the nice old buildings in Uppsala Science Park, where large parts of Uppsala’s innovation system are gathered on the same floor. Besides UU Innovation, the business incubator UIC and the foundation STUNS are here, for example. They all complement one another, according to Nordquist.
“If a company comes along that we see would benefit from talking to UIC, we guide them further. In the same way, UIC talks to us when they meet companies that would benefit from developing their product or service together with researchers.”
UU Innovation began in 2007, two years before the government decided to start innovation centres at some universities. Besides providing business advice to researchers and students, the innovation centre in Uppsala serves as a portal for companies, organisations and public authorities who want to collaborate with the university.
Workshops on concrete problems
An especially popular meeting form is AIMday, which was developed here at UU Innovation. Prior to the meeting, the participants get to send in questions and problems, which are then matched to researchers with specialist knowledge. Workshops are then held in small groups on concrete problems.
It began in 2008 with an AIMday in materials science, but in recent years, many other subjects have been discussed, such as welfare, ageing and digital health. The meeting format has also been exported internationally.
“What makes it so successful is that we start out from the companies’ or other external organisations’ own problems and that they address the issue together with researchers. It’s a very powerful tool for identifying issues that are of interest to both sides,” says Nordquist.
“Such a meeting can lay the foundation for interesting collaborative projects where the different actors jointly formulate the issues and drive the project together.”
Researchers in different fields
At UU Innovation, there are people with a broad knowledge of specific fields. Different staff members are responsible for different sectors; for example, there is a special contact person for anyone interested in life science.
There is often a need to meet researchers in several different fields. For example, the university has a collaboration agreement with the construction company NCC. They do not just want to collaborate on technical issues, but are also interested in social issues, such as how people want to live, explains Nordquist.
“We’ve had a team that has helped set up workshops with researchers, about sustainability issues for example. We try to meet the companies’ needs for new knowledge.”
UU Innovation also works on commercialisation and putting ideas to use and is keen to make contact with people who want to get involved in early innovation projects originating at Uppsala University.
“Researchers and students often need to supplement the group with people with business expertise and networks.”
Exciting new areas of collaboration
In Uppsala, there are long traditions of collaboration in the technical field, and in healthcare there is collaboration between medical research and Uppsala University Hospital. In recent years, exciting new areas of collaboration have popped up.
For example, archaeologists have worked with companies to develop an app that shows what Gamla Uppsala looked like in the Viking Age and Uppsala Cathedral in the Middle Ages.
“This shows the potential when different fields and knowledge are combined,” says Nordquist.
“An innovation means implementing new solutions and often requires a number of different competencies.”
The ideas from researchers and students are refined with the help of business advisers. Some of them can then be taken further in one of UIC’s business development programmes and some are chosen for investment by Uppsala University Holding Company.
In contrast to UU Innovation, the holding company is not part of the university as a public authority and works more directly as an investor and partner in businesses that spin off from the university.
Ranked tenth in the world
Statistics in recent years show that the innovation system in Uppsala is doing well. The business incubator UIC is ranked tenth in the world among university-affiliated incubators and fifth in Europe. The holding company has also made a number of successful investments and exits over the years.
“One success factor is that we share offices and run into each other at the shared coffee maker,” says Nordquist.
This autumn, the entire innovation system is moving to newly built offices just a stone’s throw away in Uppsala Science Park, so they will continue to be found behind the same door.
UU innovation in numbers
Since 2008 and up to the beginning of the 2017 autumn semester, Uppsala University has been main or co-organiser of 39 AIMdays in various thematic areas. At these meetings, 760 workshops have been held.
A total of 23 AIMdays have been organised to date by other universities (in Sweden and abroad), including Edinburgh and Oxford.
In 2016, more than 120 ideas were addressed in widely different subject areas, such as energy, people and society, materials, mechanics, physics, information technology, pharmaceuticals and medical technology. Three quarters of the ideas are based on products, the others on services. More than 200 people, from students to professors, are involved. In 2016, 19 new companies were formed and 2 projects were transferred to established companies.
In total, nearly 1,000 new ideas have been received and evaluated by UU Innovation and more than 120 innovation projects have moved on to business development programmes in Uppsala’s business incubator, UIC. Nearly 50 new companies from the university have received investments from UU Holding during the period.
In addition to this, more than 1,000 ideas from the university’s students have come in to Drivhuset (cooperative partner to support students) and around 800 student companies have been started with their help.