When SIRRIS, the collective centre for and by the technological industry in Belgium, took the initiative to set up a virtual research centre for materials research in Flanders about 10 years ago, it approached Technopolis Group as partner for a feasibility study for this Strategic Initiative Materials (SIM). Together with 10 major industrial companies and a number of Flemish universities, a strategy and an organisational structure were developed for the institute. Technopolis Group was responsible for developing the organisational model, including the model for financial contributions from industry and the model for distributing government funding across the various research partners, with guidance from the industrial stakeholders. Furthermore, Technopolis Group facilitated the discussions between industry and the universities on the intellectual property rights (IPR) model to be used. Now, 10 years later, SIM is flourishing; it has increased critical mass for materials research in universities and become a flagship cluster in the regional policy.
Technopolis Group was also hired by the regional government of the Province of Noord-Brabant in the Netherlands to coordinate efforts in the province to set up an international leading research and technology centre in the field of solar cells. The national energy research centre, ECN, had indicated that they were willing to relocate part of their activities to the province, on the condition that they would receive an investment subsidy of €30 million. Working with a group of leading regional stakeholders and ECN, the idea of a local ECN subsidiary was transformed into a joint research centre of four research institutes that recognised the scientific and commercial potential of joining forces with each other, in cooperation with many local companies from the (broader) regional ecosystem. The subsidy was awarded, distributed among all four research partners, leading to Solliance being set up. A new research centre in a new, joint location. Although the economic crisis slowed down the initial growth of Solliance, it is now flourishing. At present eight research groups (from three countries) have developed solar cells with world-record breaking performance. The centre is now working with regional industry to demonstrate their technologies and bring them to the market successfully.
These and other examples of supporting the establishment of new research centres illustrate the following:
- It is not always necessary to start from scratch to launch innovative research centres. Identifying the best qualified groups and departments in existing universities and centres and helping them to align interests, can form a strong core of a new centre with a novel scientific and technological focus. The governance of these new co-operations can take many forms, mostly depending on the domain in which the centre operates.
- Aligning the interest of regional and national governments, industry, academia and public research centres requires a delicate balancing act between the interests of all these stakeholders. Facilitating this requires a process that aims to understand the motivations and incentives of all parties and finding win-win solutions.
- The wins need also to be made visible in the working plan of the centre to be collectively agreed: PhDs, publications and research infrastructures are of primary importance for universities, while the industrial stakeholders are more interested in clear IP agreements.
Strategy consultancy for research organisations requires a unique suite of knowledge and competencies. By combining our experience of knowledge-based organisations and strategy-development processes with our in-house domain knowledge (e.g. in health, green economy and higher education), often, in cooperation with external experts with specific competences (e.g. in financing or specialist domain expertise) we can create the best team for the job in every unique case.