At the start of the year, we celebrated In-Part’s fifth birthday. Since the platform was launched in 2014, we have initiated close to 5,000 new conversations between academia and industry.
Our idea is simple – help to unlock innovation from research by making new connections between academia and industry that get ideas out of the lab and on to the market.
In-Part is primarily an online matchmaking platform for university-industry collaboration. Some people say it is like a Match.com for science, or a Tinder for tech transfer. Through proactive outreach, underpinned by smart matchmaking algorithms, we are able to send personalised alerts to R&D teams about innovation in their space being developed by academic researchers around the world. When a company signals interest, we organise the introduction. And with that, our job is done – or thereabouts.
The conversations that result from the introductions we make lead to everything from grant funding for collaborative research, co-development projects, testing new materials and proprietary compounds, to product development, licensing deals and long-term strategic partnerships.
In-Part currently provides an output for early-stage innovation from more than 220 universities and research institutes across six continents. These include Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Cornell University, University of Pennsylvania, Max Planck Society, Leiden University, University of Vienna, Osaka University, University of Queensland, Australian National University and University of Hong Kong, as well as leading UK institutes such as Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Manchester universities. To find new industry partners for these academic clients, we have established relationships with R&D professionals from a network of more than 5,500 research-intensive companies, including teams in all the top 25 global R&D-spending firms.
Our community grows daily. Along with plenty of others this year, we have had heads of R&D, product development managers, principal scientists, and open innovation leads at Roche, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Samsung, IBM and Google X sign up to use the platform. This is alongside expanding our academic network with universities in Egypt, South Africa, Chile, Canada and New Zealand subscribing to the platform.
We are growing fast and it is great, but In-Part did not appear overnight. Our founders go way back. They were best friends at school. And after parting ways for university – Patrick Speedie studied law and bioethics, Robin Knight immunology – they were both drawn to London. Knight was working as a postdoctoral researcher in immunology at King’s College London, Speedie was at an intellectual property publishing house.
Where do all good ideas start?
One evening at a pub near London Bridge, Knight and Speedie were sitting with ale to hand, sharing their frustration about the difficulty of starting meaningful conversations between academia and industry. At the time, Knight was faced with the challenge of getting a discovery from his team at King’s College London in front of the right people in industry. And at a conference the previous week, Speedie had witnessed a chance meeting between an R&D manager and academic scientist who had been looking for each other’s expertise for years.
They mused that “there must be an easier way to start new collaborations”. And so, over the coming weeks, blueprints were sketched and business plans drawn up. The concept – an online system that simplifies the process through which innovation-driven companies are alerted and introduced to commercially-viable university research.
Their break came in 2013 at Venturefest Yorkshire. With support from University of Sheffield Enterprise, the institution’s entrepreneurship hub, Speedie and Knight printed some business cards, suited up and pitched their idea in public for the first time. One angel investor came forward, providing the initial funding to develop a proof-of-concept for the matchmaking platform that is now In-Part. After a successful pilot with six UK universities, they quit their day jobs and officially launched the platform in January 2014.
A model for university subscriptions
Our business model is straightforward. In-Part is free for companies. Academic clients pay an annual subscription to showcase their opportunities on the platform. We do not claim royalties and we do not take a cut of any deals. In-Part’s founders built the company this way to maximise accessibility to university research, providing the greatest chance for it to impact society by getting it out of the lab and on to the marketplace. Being free-to-use for companies removes the barriers for them to access new research. Corporate R&D teams do not have to cut through red tape, and smaller companies with specialised product pipelines have a level playingfield to gain from collaborating with universities.
By operating a university subscription model, we work directly with the people in universities who are responsible for technology transfer, knowledge exchange and research commercialisation. This means that we can ensure that the opportunities showcased on the platform are up to date, and that the individuals responsible for the research are actively looking to interact with industry. Through this, we can initiate meaningful conversations between engaged individuals in academia and industry.
We also capture responses from R&D teams with matching research interests who decline opportunities to collaborate with our academic clients. Capturing these responses from qualified industry sources and relaying them to universities provides an insight into how technologies need to be developed further and better positioned for commercialisation.
And to round it off, we also track interaction data through the platform to provide metrics of engagement across an institute’s portfolio. These engagement metrics provide the basis for more informed decision-making about commercialisation strategies.
A new market pull for academic innovation
Now the dust has settled on our fifth birthday celebrations, we are firmly focused on the future. With a 30-strong team, offices in London and Ottawa, and our headquarters in Sheffield, we are pushing to continue the 100% year-on-year growth of our academic client-base and industry network, continually improving the functionality of the platform and the service we offer.
To meet the increasing need for companies to engage with external research and expertise to supplement or supplant their internal innovation programs, in 2017 we launched a new product, Discover.
Discover enables corporate R&D teams to leverage our embedded relationships with teams across an extended academic network to search for existing research and expertise, or to solicit proposals to co-develop research or to solve a specific problem. Where our matchmaking platform provides a technology push from universities into industry, Discover offers a direct market pull for industry.
Through Discover, companies directly engage university teams with their requirements to identify leading expertise, research, technology, facilities and spinouts, and to solicit proposals for new research. In short, it is a bespoke, proactive scouting and sourcing tool for corporate R&D.
Discover is being used by world leaders in open innovation across the physical and life sciences, including Bayer, UCB Pharma, Murata Manufacturing and Boehringer Ingelheim. So far we have covered client requirements seeking investment opportunities, experts, technology or project proposals in topics that range from epilepsy and dielectric materials, to cellular senescence and food storage.
An optimistic outlook
With governments around the world tuning in to the economic outputs generated by university-industry collaborations, technology transfer is in the spotlight.
In the UK, the government is backing research commercialisation as the central pillar of its Industrial Strategy. And soon, British universities will be evaluated on their ability to collaborate with industry via the Knowledge Exchange Framework.
Looking further afield, it is unusual for a day to pass without news of new funding streams, policy initiatives or op-eds from thought-leaders in academia and industry somewhere around the world designed to encourage and enable the commercialisation of academic research.
At In-Part, we are working to connect the world’s university-industry ecosystem to accelerate the translation of discoveries made in universities into new products, drugs, and technologies that have a positive impact on society. Despite the recent pushback on globalisation, we are seeing that there is still an appetite for international collaboration. The best science does not have borders.
Of the near-5,000 university-industry interactions initiated by In-Part, 75% are between international partners. That is 3,750 new potential collaborations between academia and industry that would not have otherwise happened.
It is these collaborations that we have matched, and plenty more that we will introduce in the future, which could lead to new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, biometric sensors and genetic profiling tools for personalised healthcare, and the infrastructure to generate sustainably all the food and energy we will need.