Innovate with Sony: Exploring the nexus of technology, startups, and academia
Join us in the first episode of 2024, as we explore the dynamic world of innovation and collaboration with Damjan Stamcar, Principal Technology Analyst and Research Award Program Manager at Sony.
Discover how Sony partners with academia and startups to unlock ground-breaking innovations, and gain insights into strategic collaborations and the fascinating stories behind Sony’s Research Award Program (RAP).
In this article, we summarise part of that conversation, but you can listen to the full interview in our podcast:
Could you please tell us more about you and your work at Sony?
I have been working for Sony for over 20 years and then six years for Ericsson. Four years ago, I took my current role as Principal Technology Analyst and the Research Award Program (RAP) Manager. For the first one, as the head of one of the 14 technology scouts in Europe, we try to be the local counterparts to the startup and the university ecosystem.
Our daily tasks are to find those upcoming startups, introduce their complimentary technology to our R&D colleagues across the globe to then find the latest and greatest that might be used in future products of Sony. We are looking for strategic partnerships, not so much financial investments, because that’s another group, but we really want to test out their solutions and bring those collaborations to life.
As the Sony Research Award Program head, we invite universities and research institutions once a year to participate in a program which could then run for one year.
Can you elaborate a little bit more on what would be Sony’s overarching vision and strategy in partnering with academia and startups in innovation?
The good part of my and my colleagues role is that we engage with both parties at the same time. Most of the times, Sony R&D is researching on a specific topic and want to team up with universities and research institutions to see how can they develop the next generation of products and services together.
Sometimes we are very lucky and this type of university research becomes a potential new spin out of a university. And that’s where our second role comes in. Once that product or technology goes from an idea, which is usually the research part at the university, to a product that you can test out, we try to evaluate it develop it even further to an industrial standard so it becomes ready for production. That is when it gets even more interesting.
We are trying to be there very early at the research stage where you have low technology readiness levels just a “mind thought”, so to speak – and then develop it even further, to a product stage.
And then we can introduce it to our colleagues to try out. We try to harmonise both roles, and often we have the task to find only research papers, which are complimentary to what we do. And sometimes we have already requests for technologies that are ready for the market.
And then we search more for startups. So that’s how those two worlds come to life together.
I can imagine the Sony Research Award Program is also a vehicle for you to get to those excellent researchers across the globe. Can you elaborate little bit more on the components of the Research Award Program?
As I mentioned, we have two main ways of engagement. One is inside-out driven engagement where we identify whom to work with. The other one is something like opening the doors once a year from the July to September and inviting everyone who has come up with a cool new idea and research topic to send their proposal to our program.
We started in 2016 with just research from U.S. and Canada, then included 9 other countries in Europe in 2019 and now it is open to 21 countries. This allows for research which might not be on our radar to be shared with us.
After the proposal and application phase, we read all those proposals internally, evaluate them, rate them, reach out to the university again, and go into additional assessments. Then, we finally pick some of the award candidates from the roughly 130 keywords and themes that we cover in our program.
There are two main schemes we have in our program: One is the Faculty Research Award, where we grant up to 100k USD for a one-year collaboration and covers roughly 130 keywords. The second one is the Focused Research Award, we grant up to 150k USD for a one-year collaboration, and that covers 10 very specific detailed research themes.
For the Focused Research Award, we are developing something in a specific topic, and we need to have that additional component to be found by the university. Therefore, technology readiness levels are a little bit different. On the one side, you have just the keywords and are very free to submit something. And on the other side, we have very specific requests where you need to be really detailed in terms of what you are delivering.
We have been exploring by now very closely the topic of joint R&D through RAP, but in what other ways does Sony collaborate with universities?
We have support centres of doctoral training partnerships, PhD placement, sponsored PhDs, contracted research projects, we do mentoring for students, we are members of steering boards, write letters of support, initiate hackathons at universities, …
We always try to be engaged with a local system because often the company only becomes attractive for the people nearby. Not many people move across the globe to find a job, but rather stay local. That is why it’s important to strengthen the local ecosystem and offer this type of engagement opportunities with academia.
Interested in more Insights like this?
Head now to our episode A blueprint for partnership success: The Swinburne University model to learn more about the ground-breaking framework aimed at identifying, strengthening, and managing strategic partners at Swinburne University.
If you would like to collaborate with external stakeholders but are not sure of where to start, our video How to turn transactional university-business relationships into strategic partnerships? can help you get started with four simple actions to turn your university-business relationships into strategic partnerships.
Stay tuned for the next episode on this series and don’t forget to follow us on your preferred podcast platform!