Chairman of the Technology Strategy Board and CEO of Cisco Uk & Ireland Phil Smith

Interview: TSB chair on efforts to boost tech transfer

Efforts to bridge the' Valley of Death' between industry and academia are making progress according the chairman of the Technology Strategy Board.

Increasing pressure on universities to provide commercial skills to students concerned about what their inflating tuition fees are paying for means the academic world is becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to opportunities to collaborate with industry, according to Phil Smith.

And the rising popularity for leveraging the innovation of start-ups means big business is increasingly turning to universities to act as sources of ideas and people – as the CEO of Cisco UK & Ireland Smith has first-hand experience through the firm’s British Innovation Gateway, which supports fledgling entrepreneurs and start-ups.

“It’s a completely two way relationship where our guys get as much from the start-ups as they get from working with people from Cisco,” he told delegates at an event organised by academic publisher Elsevier to discuss research commercialisation today.

The two fields are beginning to speak “the same language”, according to Smith, and the increasing prevalence of digital technology means collaboration at a distance and bridging disciplines has never been easier.

The Web’s tendency for open source and open standards could even show a potential solution to the problem of the two sectors' differing attitudes to transparency of research, data and intellectual property.

“What has emerged – and the Internet has been a good example of it – is that the world of open innovation has proven to actually be quite powerful for all of us,” he said, speaking to E&T after his speech.

While universities could do more to prepare students for the commercial world, Smith believes the onus to bridge the gap lies primarily with businesses if they want to take advantage of the expertise of academia.

“It’s not really very fair for businesses to look at schools and universities and say, ‘why are you not delivering the right skills to me?’, if businesses are not willing to get involved, have their people seconded in, maybe going and mentoring people while they’re on the course, running courses to talk to them about the kind of skills they want, maybe giving them practical training,” he said.

“I mean a lot of us have that inside our own companies, those kind of training courses, why wouldn’t we allow students to use them so that when they came they already had some of those skills?”

For the full interview visit the E&T SoundCloud page:

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