| 6 minute read

Commercialising innovation: UTS Rapido’s impact on research transformations

Elena Galán-Muros
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In this episode, we sit down with Hervé Harvard, Executive Director of Engineering and IT Solutions and Centre Director of UTS Rapido at the University of Technology Sydney.

We delve into the establishment of UTS Rapido, an innovation hub redefining how universities support industry with R&D innovation strategies. From addressing IP concerns to navigating cultural gaps, Hervé unveils the challenges faced in moving from research to commercialisation.

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

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Sarah Jaber:
To kick off today’s conversation, can you tell us what UTS Rapido is and what is your role there?

Hervé Harvard:
My background is commercial R&D, and I got recruited by the University of Technology Sydney in 2016 to look at the gap between university and industry and to try to bring them closer.

We tried a few things, but it was apparent and there were some elements of that gap between university and industry that are not quite well addressed in UTS. That is where we positioned Rapido.

One of the main elements of that gap that we’re tackling in Rapido is the cultural gap. Everything related, for example, to project management, meeting deadlines, meeting the quality of the deliverables that have been agreed contractually, etc. Everything related to a professional approach to delivering a project, which industry is used to and expects, we do in Rapido by having people who have a background in commercial R&D and have worked with industry.

We have 30 engineers in Rapido, and we work with researchers, but they feel the technical gap as they move from research to product. They need to translate research knowledge, start focusing more on the delivery of solutions as opposed to the discovery of new knowledge, and the engineers are very important because their passion and their capabilities are around building solutions.

In a nutshell, Rapido is an innovation hub or business unit within the university that is solely focused on delivering R&D capability for our external partners. This may involve key academics when we need that depth of expertise, but it’s managed by a seasoned project manager or technical leader, and it can deliver at a high quality through engineers.

Sarah Jaber:
What do you see as the biggest challenges to go from research to commercialisation?

Hervé Harvard:
Although IP attribution is not an obstacle for us at UTS, it’s a critical challenge in this area. That’s one of the top three questions the industry partners have, which means it was one of the top three concerns when they come to the university.

The capability to consistently deliver projects in a professional manner is also an obstacle.

The university is a collection of sole traders, which means that the experience and the capability that is brought to the relationship depends on the academic teams that will work with industry. So, the experience can vary from excellent to maybe not as good as the industry partners would expect.

By providing guidelines to deliver those R&D projects and operating as a private R&D company in Rapido, we provide some reliability when it comes to what to expect from a project delivery.

I’ll share a story that happened many years ago in a conference about university and industry. There was also one partner that had projects with, in a panel with four other industry people. They all started complaining about the university: “Oh, the IP is difficult”, and “they don’t give us real world outcome”, and “they don’t do projects”. It was a little bit unfair, because those partners were chosen for the panel because they have been collaborating with the university. So, I asked them if they haven’t had a successful relationship with their partner universities besides the issues that they were mentioning, and they had to agree with that. It’s interesting that even though they had projects that went really well, the perception was still that working with universities was going to be a problem.

The university should be cognisant of the perception that people have when they come to the university. It doesn’t mean they have a bad relationship. Those four partners had fantastic projects within the university, but when asked how easy it is to work with universities, they all think it’s hard.

Sarah Jaber:
Based on your experience setting up a structure like UTS Rapido, what advice do you have for other organisations that are looking to bridge that gap?

Herve Harvard:
If it’s a university or research institution, my advice would be to not underestimate the value of people with commercial background. The UTS is struggling with an issue of translating research to business value, and that is something that companies have been doing forever. They have departments and structures in place to make sure that the research is giving them the return on investment they expect.

It’s a different and a bit harder situation for universities because they don’t have a product itself, they only do the research. My advice for them would be to not work on commercialisation by themselves. Go to industry and leverage the ideas and the expertise that people with industry background can bring into the university. For people in industry that want to bridge that gap, be open when it comes to university.

They mostly think universities don’t know the real world and can’t fit this type of role, but it’s not quite true. What industry never questions is the wealth of expertise and knowledge in the university, they know there are tremendous opportunities in working with university.

I would encourage industry people to not just assume that collaborating with universities going to be hard. Explore the opportunities and try to make it work. Industry needs to realise how much they can get from university and try to extract some of that value.

Interested in more insights like this?

Hear now to our article Four approaches to technology transfer at Higher Education Institutions to learn about the most common approaches to technology transfer, and the frameworks for their implementation.

If you want to start your journey on research valorisation, but are not sure about where to start, take a look at our article How to create value from your research: A guide to research valorisation, where we have collected some resources that will help you reach your market.

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