the entrepreneurial mindset in R&D

Ellen Burgdorf-Schröder, Research Funding Manager, Harz University of Applied Sciences, Germany.

This article was first published in 2020 in the Entrepreneurial Mindset Network eZINE Volume 3 no 3

Ellen Burgdorf-Schröder and Susanne Klein, are both Research Funding Managers, working at the Application Lab (AppLab) at the Harz University of Applied Sciences in Germany.  In this article they explain the work of the Competence Network for Transfer-oriented Research (KAT), set up in 2006 as a joint initiative, and supported through the European Social Fund.  Ellen and Susanne explain that an entrepreneurial mindset is crucial in order to consider future ways of R&D and knowledge transfer. They conclude by offering 4 tips for successful University-Business Collaborations.

1 An Introduction to KAT

Within the KAT, the four universities of applied sciences (UAS) of Saxony-Anhalt, one of the new federal states in eastern Germany, collaborate and pursue new ways to support research and development (R&D) as well as knowledge and technology transfer. KAT's thematic priorities reflect the EU’s Regional Innovation Strategy and aim to address several of the region’s long-term challenges.

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Challenges include an over-aged population, outbound migration and brain drain to other German regions, low-rated international competitiveness of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and an average rank in the EU’s regional innovation scoreboard. 

KAT’s overarching purpose is threefold:

- to facilitate cooperation between academics and businesses,

- to encourage transfer-oriented research,

- and to empower SMEs to include research findings in their operations. 

Of especially great interest is the Application Lab (AppLab) at Harz UAS, tasked with obtaining funding and R&D support. As of 2019, its Research Funding Managers also provide support for student and academic entrepreneurship, usually in the form of spin-offs and start-up grants.

Through their work in research support, KAT employees also serve as change agents, both at their individual UAS as well as in the wider region. An entrepreneurial mindset is crucial in order to consider future ways of research and transfer, and it provides a common theme throughout the following 5 steps A-E: 

A. Facilitation of new contacts.  One of the primary challenges in research support is the matching of suitable partners, since R&D projects can seldom be carried out by one institution alone. Thus, KAT utilises its contacts to bring together partners in academics, the private and the public sector.  

B. Information and consultation.  Any incoming enquiries are evaluated according to the transfer involved - knowledge, technology or maybe both - and  channeled to the appropriate partners at the member UAS. One or more loops of consultation and analysis are carried out in order to crystallise the stakeholders’ areas of expertise as well as individual needs and expectations for the collaboration. Methods of innovation management are used to foster creativity and to develop the core idea of a potential R&D project. 

C. Application for a R&D grant. Matching it with a call for proposal is no simple task. While the idea should originate from the researcher, the Research Funding Managers have to stay apprised of open calls and maintain constant communication to ensure that the proposal matches the finer details of the call. Depending on the call, an application may take anything from a few weeks to several months. Throughout this step, Research Funding Managers assist with budget planning, market research, graphic design, proofreading and the proposal submission as well as any other requests by the project team.

D. Project management and support.  Once the grant has been awarded and the project has begun, Research Funding Managers assist with management tasks, such as reporting obligations, project controlling, research marketing and science communication. 

E. Transfer and application of research to the company.  Usually, application-oriented calls for proposals also require a strategy for dissemination and sustainability. KAT places its own channels (website, newsletter, social media) at the disposal of the researchers and assists with content creation.

Additional steps also include the publication and presentation of project outcomes at appropriate events such as trade fairs and conferences, as well as assisting the business partners with the implementation of results at the workplace, for example by adapting the existing business model and altering or adding new services.

4 Tips for University-Business Collaborations

> Communicate your expectations and needs clearly - whether you are the project manager or the partner.

>Keep an open mind: A chance encounter may lead to a fruitful cooperation for years to come, and that call for proposals you have been looking for may be just around the corner.

>Consider all possible ways of cooperation - commissioned research, a joint proposal or else. Try to involve students to promote young talent.

>Actively encourage project partners to develop and act according to their own strengths and needs, and empower them to engage with the wider public. ◼️