Building critical mass to create thriving university ecosystems is no easy task but from the US to the UK to France, here's how it can be done.

cover art for Beyond the Breakthrough episode 108 featuring Paul Van Dun, Geeta Nathan, Vincent Lamande, Kelly Sexton and Marion Bernard

“We’re one of the busiest tech transfer offices in the US. Last year, we received 580 invention reports from our faculty, so just a tremendous volume and a wonderful problem to have,” says Kelly Sexton, associate vice-president for Research and Innovation Partnerships at the University of Michigan.

Building critical mass around university innovation clusters often starts with this — being able to even get enough ideas out of the research labs and moving towards commercialisation. Not all tech transfer offices have anywhere this volume to chose from.

Then there are the other problems — how to get enough money to pay for patents or funding for startups, tech transfer staff having enough time to work with startups, and finding enough serial entrepreneurs who know how to lead the companies spinning out of universities.

It’s bad enough if you have just one university to contend with, let alone service several like Marion Bernard through Northern Gritstone (founded by the universities of Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds), Geeta Nathan (who works for public grant funding body Innovate UK) and Vincent Lamande, CEO of French regional tech transfer office Ouest Valorisation.

But luckily all of them had some tactics and insights on managing the art of cluster building, which they shared in this panel debate — recorded in partnership with TenU, the international collaboration of tech transfer offices, and led by KU Leuven’s Paul Van Dun.


Thierry Heles

Thierry Heles is the editor of Global University Venturing, host of the Beyond the Breakthrough interview podcast and responsible for the monthly GUV Gazette (sign up here for free).