The AmCham Innovation Policy Task Force launched the “Business Meets Universities” (“BMU”) project in January 2017 with the aim to initiate a dialogue that creates a mutually beneficial advantage for both academia and enterprises. The series of workshops bringing together representatives of universities, corporations, startups and government is meant to examine key elements of the paradigm shift from the „Made in Hungary” approach to the „Invented in Hungary” principle by focusing on how to enhance the development of the local innovation ecosystem.
The importance of the effort is further highlighted by the fact that Hungary fell from 50 to 80 in the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness ranking. As Joerg Bauer, President of GE Hungary, pointed out, the main reason for the decline is rooted in the fact that innovation has been losing on ground, whilst relationship between the business and academic sector has been poor.
The R&D expenditure is increasing in Hungary, which is the right direction, but, for instance, the Czechs spend around 0.5% more of their GDP on research, and consequently they are far better off. “The GDP of Czech Republic outperforms that of Hungary by 30%. The correlation clearly exists,” Bauer added.
More money alone does not save the day, though. The way higher education and the private sector interacts matters even more. By listing best practices from abroad, keynote speakers emphasized critical factors that are decisive for taking that cooperation to the next level.
Christopher Ball, Director of the Central European Institute and speaking on behalf of Quinnipiac University highlighted that in Connecticut technology and incubation programs help startups engage students under well-organized schemes. Special 10-week summer training courses offering paid traineeships provide further opportunity for those studying to forge closer relationships with startups. Disseminating best practices and management technics on an institutionalized level also has a positive snowball effect.
Get the timing right and find champions
Mainly two factors hamper the smooth cooperation between businesses and universities: timing and the difficulty to find a champion. “For universities work in discrete blocks of time. They are stuck that way, whereas companies are not,” Ball said. This timing mismatch can be resolved, however, by structuring projects in blocks and breaking them up to make them compatible with university structure. Another way is to organize one-week hackathons or weekends with a short-term focus.
Key is to plan at least one semester in advance: companies need to get their intended project locked it well ahead so that professors can allocate resources in time. According to Ball, finding a champion is another frequent bottleneck as you need one or two persons to be passionate about the project on both ends of the effort. Otherwise things just won’t move forward at the desired pace.
Prof. Dr. Aard Groen, Professor of Innovative Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the University of Twente and the University of Groningen shared the experience of the Dutch Twente region to give an idea about how Hungary should proceed in order to get more out of innovation.
“Companies in Holland had no choice but to follow the path of development by embracing quality management, just-in-time models and flexibility,” the professor said. “But all that is no longer enough to succeed in the corporate arena as companies need to be innovative and entrepreneurial on top of that.”
Networks need to be built between players and policies are essential that are consistent on part of the government, the universities and businesses alike as the influence one another. It all takes time, though. In the case of Twente, it took from 1980 to 2000 to implement a smoothly running system based on efficient cooperation of different innovation stakeholders.
White Paper in the works to help implementation
Participants closed the session by forming small groups to identify best practice projects of business-university cooperation, how to retain high level scientific goals and become successful in business activities. They also discussed how to build an innovation ecosystem around a large company, namely successful models for ecosystem hubs in the world.
A White Paper of the event summarizing conclusions will then be discussed with universities throughout the summer on the basis of which policy recommendations will be submitted to the Business Meets Government Summit in September 2017.