At UIIN, our work is underpinned by research. With 15 large-scale research initiatives currently running…
At UIIN, our work is underpinned by research. With 15 large-scale research initiatives currently running across various topics in the field of university-industry collaboration, we are excited to share our insights with you in our research projects blog series. Today, we will dive into STEM Valorise, an Erasmus+ project aimed at helping a new generation of the first stage STEM researchers translate their research into real societal impact. As part of the research process of the project, UIIN had the pleasure of speaking with several inspiring researchers and entrepreneurs about their successful valorisation activities. Get inspired by the story of Alessandro Rolfo, Founder and CSO of Corion Biotech.
Research Valorisation and STEM_Valorise
In recent years, the European Commission (EC) has stressed the importance of improving connectivity amongst society, businesses, governments, and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), in an effort to increase employment, productivity and social cohesion. Valorisation of research that involves different stakeholders often translates into sustainable solutions with economic and societal benefits for society. Nonetheless, despite the existence of supporting policy, HEIs’ research valorisation activities remain limited.
To counter this phenomenon, UIIN through the Erasmus+ STEM_Valorise project, is conducting interviews with researchers and entrepreneurs that have successfully undergone their valorisation process, with the goal of identifying common barriers, key success factors, and lessons learned from their entrepreneurial journeys.
About Alessandro Rolfo’s entrepreneurial journey
After obtaining a degree in Medical Biotechnologies, Alessandro kicked off his career with a PhD in Clinical Science and Human Reproduction at the University of Turin (Italy). During his PhD research, he widely focussed on pregnancy-related disorders, pregnancy physiopathology, and preeclampsia, which is one of the main causes of fatal-maternal mortality and morbidity worldwide.
During this period, Alessandro also had the chance to conduct part of his research at the University of Toronto, at the Mount Sinai Hospital (Canada), and once he completed his PhD studies, he stayed in Toronto and continued working for the Mount Sinai Hospital as a Post-Doctoral Researcher. These experiences were defined as pivotal for the creation of his company, as they created the mindset for the valorisation of his research.
In 2009, Alessandro moved back to Italy at the University of Turin, as recipient of a prestigious grant from the University of Turin, aimed at bringing back to Italy the best Italian researchers that were working abroad. He had the vision of translating his research results into something more practical that could have a commercial value on the market. After depositing two international patents, in 2012, Alessandro kicked off his own company named Corion Biotech as an academic spin-off of the University of Turin.
The company focusses on placental mesenchymal stem cells-based therapeutic applications for pregnancy-related diseases and in particular preeclampsia. As of 2014, Alessandro also works as an assistant professor at the University of Turin in the Department of Surgical Sciences.
Barriers to valorisation
During the interview, UIIN asked Alessandro to mention barriers and obstacles that hindered the valorisation process of his research. Most notably, he told us that a first barrier can be identified in the need for scientists to change their mindset. Scientists need to think and research in terms of a useful product that people would buy rather than being driven exclusively by experimentation and publication.
Furthermore, Alessandro suggested that the Italian political and economic environment is somewhat hostile to research valorisation. This is mostly a political problem. Due to the political instability of the country, the executive branch changes leadership multiple times in the course of one legislation. Hence, politicians are often not interested in investing funding in research, as the benefits of such investment appear only in the long term.
Finally, International Patent (IP) rules are also a barrier to valorisation. Professors are pressured by their universities to publish articles about their research. Nonetheless, this is in contrast with IP rules, since it is not possible to register patent about the findings when there have been publications over one’s research.
Critical success factors and reflections for the future
Alessandro’s PhD exchange programme and work experience in Canada have been a critical factor to the valorisation of his research. These experiences made Alessandro aware of the fact that research can be valorised, and that there is no shame in conducting research that is market-and people-oriented. This mindset was not widespread in Italy at the time when Corion Biotech was founded.
Moreover, Alessandro argued that it is crucial to teach business skills to bio-medical students that are undertaking PhD studies, as well as creating an understanding of how IPs can be deposited. Only in this way, younger generations will be provided with all the tools to kick off their companies and to take full advantage of their research.
Finally, it is necessary to create more European Union-wide Partnerships for research valorisation. This will not only enable students to “open their minds” and to be confronted with different realities, research approaches, and mindsets, but also to build a European “demos.” Alessandro is convinced that European governments, universities, businesses, and citizens need to start working together more cohesively rather than independently, as only in this way Europe will progress at a higher speed.
Authored by Mario Ceccarelli, Junior Project Officer at UIIN.