External collaborations and partnerships | 4 minute read

Serendipity Day: How innovative collaborations spark new ideas

Elena Galán-Muros
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During the 2023 UIIN Conference, we sat down with Jochen Barth, Group Leader of Networks and Transfer at Fraunhofer IWU, to discuss Serendipity Day: the innovative format that brings industry and research together to develop new ideas and applications.

Learn more about how Serendipity Day navigates the needs of both industry and academia in collaborative projects.

In this article, we summarise part of that conversation, but you can listen to the full interview in our podcast:

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Madeline Arkins:
First wanted to ask you about your initiative, Serendipity Day. How did it start?

Jochen Barth:
There are some clusters of excellence within Fraunhofer, and they work with very new research topics that receive funding to be further developed. The clusters are built between different Fraunhofer institutes to develop that new research topic. One of these clusters is the cluster for programmable materials, a new topic that both research and industry are very excited about. But, since it’s so new, there aren’t really any applications so far. So, the people from the cluster came to us and they asked us to develop a format that can bring industry and research together to develop new applications.

We have done that format now three times with very large industry partners and I must say it has been really a success

Madeline Arkins:
How does Serendipity Day work?

Jochen Barth:
Let’s say that a company is looking for inspiration about a programmable materials. They visit our cluster’s website; they get interested and they contact us for more information.

We organise some online meetings where we present the research and the possibilities of programmable materials, and we get into discuss what product ideas they have where programmable materials could provide a solution.

If both parties agree, we put a team together and gear up for the serendipity day, which is an in-person, one-and-a-half-days meeting at the industry partner’s location. The industry partner presents their product visions, we go for a dinner and the next day we divide in teams that represent one product vision each and do rounds where everyone builds on top of each other, developing ideas.

Then we see where we have a match and develop research topics that will get translated to like project proposals in the weeks after.

Madeline Arkins:
Is there any one particular aspect of this format that you think is the key into why you’re being asked to replicate it in other settings?

Jochen Barth:
It’s important to have a format you can work towards. Very often I have seen these talks and discussions, but they’re circling around each other. The first step is to have something very concrete where you can say, “okay, let’s meet for one and a half days and develop some ideas together”. Both parties have an equal share in creating the ideas and both prepare for Serendipity Day by following a very concrete path before and after it as well.

That really helps to get things going and that’s why both sides enjoy the format.

Interested in more insights like this?

If you would like to build your one-time university-business relationships into long-term, strategic ones, head now to our video How to turn transactional university-business relationships into strategic partnerships? You can also listen to Jane O’Dwyer, (CEO of Cooperative Research Australia) as she shares her expertise on the unique role and impact of Cooperative Research Centers in Australia’s innovation ecosystem.

Stay tuned for the next episode on this series and don’t forget to follow and rate us on your preferred podcast platform!

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