| 5 minute read

KNOVA: A one-stop-shop for collaboration

Elena Galán-Muros
Strategic partnerships podcast series header

Step into the world of open innovation and strategic collaboration in this week’s episode, where we sat with Federico Matteini, Head of Strategic Foresight at Vega (EPFL) to talk about the KNOVA platform they have developed.        

Explore with us how the KNOVA platform leverages its dynamic research and innovation ecosystem, where cutting-edge technologies meet real-world challenges, and discover how it bridges the gap between research and application, empowering companies to unlock new opportunities and drive growth.

This episode was recorded as part of our Building Successful Partnerships Training Program. You can find more information about it and our other professional development courses at uiin.org/training.

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 get us started, can you explain what is the KNOVA platform?

Federico Matteini:
KNOVA is an open innovation platform that we created in 2021, and its purpose is to help companies nurture their innovation pipeline within the rich ecosystem that we have around EPFL. In this ecosystem, we have more than 350 laboratories, over 150 start-ups, 20 research institutions and 50 corporate partners on-campus. In this ecosystem, the companies have the opportunity to explore and really nurture their innovation pipeline in short, medium, and long term.

There were different elements that pushed us to the creation of KNOVA. First of all, we realised that, at the time, we were “leaving food on the table” in the sense that there were partnership opportunities we were not exploiting. We also realised that, as research university, we can only answer to a very concrete part of the huge set of innovation needs of a company.

That is why we got together and combined EPFL’s strengths with those of our surrounding partners to be able to better serve our industry partners throughout their innovation journey.

Sarah Jaber:
How does the KNOVA platform work? How do industries and EPFL’s stakeholders get involved?

Federico Matteini:
On the industry side, companies pay an annual membership fee to access the platform, which is structured over three different pillars.

Open innovation is a complex beast that means something different in every company, and the three pillars, Learn, Explore and Scouting, help us answer to their different needs.

In the Learn pillar, we offer a series of in-person events to our industry partners. There are monthly sprints of two to three days where we come on campus and interact through a series of workshop, demos, presentations, etc.

With this series of events, we answer to the collective needs related to open innovation and education that are shared between companies: How do we really embrace open innovation? How can I be more strategic about ecosystem engagement? How do we build strategic relationship universities? How do I design collaboration opportunities?

We design a series of seven workshops that are spaced within the sprints where we help companies, upskill them, and teach them about best practice and open innovation and how to engage with the university research ecosystem.

The second pillar is called Explore, where we have a combination of technology roadshows, events, demos, presentations, where the purpose is to leave no stone unturned. When we show the companies all the technological wonders that we produce in our ecosystem, we inspire them and therefore increase the chances of collaboration.

The third pillar, Scouting, goes more in-depth into the specific company needs as we actually start to nurture the collaboration pipeline of companies by assigning an account manager. Their main role is to learn about the company’s open innovation strategy, understand the areas of exploration and help them navigate the ecosystem by identifying who are right laboratories, start-ups, companies, or research institutes that could help them advance in their strategic directions.

Sarah Jaber:
What kind of companies generally get involved? Do you normally have a previous partnership with them, or do you target new ones?

Federico Matteini:
We’ve had quite a diverse set of companies: from very big one like Novartis, Ikea, Siemens or Michelin to companies that have one or two people, so we really go the full spectrum.

Regarding your second question, we designed KNOVA as a way to start partnerships. If you look back to days before creating KNOVA, EPFL partnerships were very binary: Either you had a very strategic relationship with EPFL, maybe having even offices at our EPFL innovation park, or a research contract; or you had nothing.

With KNOVA – allow me the physics metaphor – we created an intermediate energy state. It allows companies to test the value of the ecosystem without having to do the big jump and make big investments in EPFL.

KNOVA is mainly for companies who do not have yet a strategic relationship with EPFL, but they want to assess its potential. Nevertheless, many companies have come back to us year after year. For example, the first company to join is still there. It is a way for them to keep a foot in the door of the ecosystem and stay up to date with the new technologies and the opportunities that come up.

Ready for more?

This episode was recorded as part of our Building Successful Partnerships Training Program. You can find more information about it and our other professional development courses at uiin.org/training.

If you want to learn more about how universities are connecting academia with regional economic developers to drive innovation and support small businesses, head now to our episode The power of Innovation Districts: How to build stronger communities.

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

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