How does a corporate find the right university researcher or startup when it's trying to solve a critical problem? Halo has the answer.

episode cover for Beyond the Breakthrough featuring Kevin Leland

Imagine your corporate R&D team is facing a problem so complex it requires the world’s top researchers to solve. How do you find the right expert? You could scour endless academic papers or slowly build relationships with individual universities. You could invest in startups that are developing a solution. Or you could go to Halo, a matchmaker for cutting-edge research and real-world problems.

Here’s how it works: corporates throw out their toughest challenges as precise questions like “how do we remove nitrogen from stormwater runoff?” (an issue that causes river pollution, and a problem Halo helped solve for Oldcastle Infrastructure). Researchers on the platform can then submit a proposal through a process that takes about half an hour — much quicker than writing most grant applications.

But what if the right professor isn’t on the platform? Halo also uses an AI tool to scan patent filings and contact experts directly. And it works with tech transfer offices to ensure they can bring opportunities to their researchers (and keep track of applications so all the paperwork is handled properly).

Best of all for researchers, tech transfer offices and startups: it’s completely free. Corporates pay an annual fee depending on the features they require. The model has allowed Halo, incubated at the University of Chicago’s innovation unit Polsky Center and founded in 2020, to attract more than 4,000 researchers across more than 100 countries. Its corporate clients include Takeda, PepsiCo, Cargill and Unilever.

Kevin Leland, founder and chief executive of Halo, tells us how Halo grew out of an idea for a crowdfunding platform for early-stage drug development to a marketplace that now even handles philanthropic initiatives like Bayer’s Grants4Ag and enables startups to easily apply to corporate-run accelerators.


Further listening

Learn more about the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center, where Halo was incubated, in episode 34 of the Beyond the Breakthrough podcast.


Please note that the introduction and end credits have been omitted.

Kevin, welcome.

Thanks, Thierry, excited to be here.

I am excited to have you. It’s quite something unique that you’re working on, so I’m looking forward to learning a bit more. To start with, can you give me perhaps an overview of Halo and if you have them, some kind of headline numbers?

Sure. Yeah. So Halo is a AI-powered partnering platform for scientific innovators. So we enable academic scientists and science-led startups to connect directly with corporate R&D teams to solve problems and bring new innovations to market faster. We have researchers in over 100 countries. We work with some of the largest corporations in the world, from Takeda to Bayer to BASF and Procter & Gamble.

Amazing. I think a lot of people listening to this will have come across other kinds of marketplaces. So what is different about Halo?

Yeah. So Halo is at the core a technology platform. My DNA is in product and design. I spent 10-plus years working at tech startups and I think that becomes very clear when anyone actually uses the platform. And some concrete examples of that, we leverage the data in a very sophisticated way to improve the matchmaking. The user experience is something that our customers and the researchers always point out. Our real mission is to move science forward. But the way we do that practically is by removing the friction that’s involved in connecting one side with the other. So that means that the proposals that the researchers submit are incredibly simple. We only ask the questions that the companies need to know to say yes or maybe.

We have an entire backend software tool for the companies to quickly evaluate the solutions and get back to the researchers. So it’s really all about helping those two sides connect in a more seamless way.

What does the process look like then? Does a corporate put a project out? Do researchers pitch ideas? How does it work?

Yeah. So it starts at the corporate side. So the corporates will put out their technology need. And we also have some new features as well that are less solutions-based and more just looking for experts.

So the core product is the companies will put out their brief and then we will distribute it in one of two ways. One way is through our AI tool, which we call Roboscout. So that tool plugs into patent and grant and publication databases and scans millions of data points and identifies the few hundred researchers or startups that are most relevant. That’s a newer channel.

How we started was through what we call ecosystem partners. So these are over a thousand connectors, essentially. Many of which are university administrators. Som tech transfer offices, corporate relations officers, department heads, but we also now have accelerators, VCs, professional associations, and they act as power nodes in the network and they distribute the problem statement to whomever in their network they would expect to have a relevant solution or technology.

Okay. It’s interesting and I think good to hear that you’re not trying to sidestep tech transfer offices and directly work with the researchers, that TTOs are still get involved.

Yeah, not only that, but they actually can create accounts on Halo, which we strongly encourage them to do. They have their own view that we’ve designed specifically for them. So whenever a faculty member at their university even starts a proposal, they get an email that says, “Professor Schmidt just started a proposal on Halo.” So they can reach out to that professor and say, “Hey, would you like some help writing this?” or “Be sure that you log this into our grant database or our industry partnership database.”

And then once the actual proposal is submitted, they also get an email with the full contents of the proposal. And so there’s a number of features that we’re continuing to build out that are specifically tailored to make their jobs easier as well.

Yeah. When it comes to the corporates that have put the projects out, do they then manually sift through the proposals or is that some kind of AI automation that you’re working on as well?

So it’s a little of both. First of all, you don’t necessarily need AI for everything, right? So there’s a lot of just low-hanging fruit things that we’ve done to ensure that they get more quality and relevant proposals. So first of all, you have to be affiliated with a university or a startup to even be part of the Halo community. So you have to be a PhD researcher at a university or a startup. That alone adds a certain level of quality to the platform. And then the questions that we ask and the actual requirements of the companies are very specific. So these aren’t like open-ended like, “Oh, give us some ideas for how we can be more sustainable or new therapies in oncology.”

They include actual must-have requirements and then when the researcher submits for those must-have requirements, they have to provide actual validation. Well, they don’t have to, but they optionally can provide validation, which then saves the company from having to go back and forth. So in general, researchers don’t like wasting their time. So if they don’t feel like they have something relevant, they’re not going to bother reaching out.

We also have a question and answer board where they’re engaging directly with the corporate sponsor and they can say, “Hey, I’m working on X, Y, or Z. Is this relevant?” And again, that just gives them the confidence to submit a proposal, but also saves the corporate sponsor time because then they can say, “Actually, no, that’s out of scope.” And then they don’t have to worry about taking their time to review it. And so generally, they’re going to get 20 to 30 proposals, so it’s not going to take a terrible amount of time. We also have features in the platform that filter it down further. So if it’s not within their TRL requirements, we put it in a different column. And we also have some email templates that make it easy for them to get back to the researchers.

How do you… And I guess checking whether someone is a researcher is fairly easy, you can just look at their email address and it’ll tell you. How do you filter out the startups? How do they sign up?

They sign up just like the academics. It’s whenever you create a new account, you say if you’re part of a company, you’re part of a university. In terms of how we reach them, a lot of them are venture spinouts or university spinouts. And so it always gets me when sometimes corporates will say, “Hey, we’re only really interested in startups.” They’re actually the same people as the university scientists oftentimes, they’re just at a slightly different stage. Or sometimes they’re the same person. It’s like, “I’m a PI in a lab and I also am a chief science officer at a startup.”

What generally is the lead time from, say, a corporate puts out a problem to researchers applying to them working together?

Yeah, well, I mean, the Halo process is relatively quick compared to the R&D process. Pharmaceuticals, obviously, can take 10 years. In the food and beverage, we’re looking at one to three years. But the process for Halo is they submit the brief and we launch them the first of the month, every month. And they’re live on the platform for two months, and then they evaluate those. And then it kind of depends on how efficient the company is at evaluating them.

Obviously, the researchers really like to hear back quicker, as always, right? Companies can let the researchers know when they will get around to it or when they will actually hear back. So I think that’s what researchers want to know. It doesn’t have to be in two weeks, but like, “Am I going to hear back in May? Is it going to be next February?” Just like give me a sense of the timeline. And so that’s a new feature we launched to allow the companies to make that transparent to the researchers.

I’m guessing that depends on the number of proposals that a corporate gets as well.

Exactly. Yeah. And that’s why they can’t say at the onset. But like once they get the proposals in, then they’re prompted by the platform to say, “Okay, you’ve got an X number of proposals. When do you think you can get back to the researchers?”

Do you cap the number of proposals that can come in? Or can corporates decide to cap it at a certain number?

Nothing prevents us from doing that. So that is a feature we could add. Generally, we haven’t gotten companies asking for that because they are specific. It’s not like, “Hey, give me ideas for precision ag.” We had some of those in the beginning and got too many, but now it’s very specific requirements. And so generally we’ll get about 20 to 30. Some are more, some are less. It kind of depends on the problem.

It naturally limits the number of ideas if you’re very precise.

Exactly, yeah. Exactly.

Once a proposal is accepted then by a corporate, does the rest of the negotiation also happen on Halo or does that go off platform?

Yeah. So all of the information on Halo is non-confidential. So our goal is to help connect them with relevant researchers, startups they wouldn’t find otherwise. And then through the platform, the company can send an NDA and then they can discuss off of Halo. So yes, the negotiation happens off of Halo currently.

How do you convince a corporate to part with information that might still be critical, even if it’s not confidential? Are they open to that concept?

Yeah. Yeah. That’s a good question. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t typically use the word open innovation to describe Halo because it’s not entirely open. So we have a number of ways for the sponsors to control the confidentiality of their brief and also who can even apply. So one example is we have something called gated RFPs [request for proposals]. A lot of companies have master service agreements with specific universities and it’s just easier to work with those faculty members.

So we can gate it specifically for those faculties. So for example, Takeda had a gated RFP for Dana-Farber researchers. Only Dana-Farber could see the brief and actually apply to it. The same is true for, they can even do that with their suppliers. So we’re now talking to another one of our corporate sponsors about distributing this just to their suppliers. Maybe they have just like KOLs [key opinion leaders] that they like to work with. They can start out with those KOLs.

The other option is they can just be anonymous. So it doesn’t have their name and so they’re not signalling to their competitors. We actually found that even anonymous RFPs doesn’t always satisfy the need to be private because then we’ve heard that maybe the actual research question we have, we don’t even want other companies to know that because it’s so novel or we’re one of the three companies working in aluminium. So somebody is going to figure it out that it’s us. And so for that, we actually recently launched something called Ghost RFPs where we use our AI and our ecosystem partners, but they don’t appear on Halo and the topic is just kept very broad. The researcher or startup has to request access in order to view the full details. And so they could even have signed an NDA.

So obviously the more gates you make the researcher go through, the more friction you add. But if it is a very sensitive topic, then that’s kind of our approach and that’s been working very well.

Yeah. That’s quite interesting actually that even anonymous, I know it makes complete sense, yeah. If you’re one of maybe two or three companies in the world that works on a specific product or technology, you’re going to guess, you know, you’ve got three guesses. One of them is going to be right.

Yeah, exactly, yeah. We’re a major aerospace company. Is it Boeing, is it Airbus or Lockheed?

Can you give me some examples of partnerships that have come out of Halo?

Yeah, sure. One of the ones that I’m most excited about is one that happened with a company that I was not even familiar with before. It’s called Oldcastle Infrastructure, part of the CRH Group, which is a huge conglomerate that has I think like 60,000 employees. Oldcastle Infrastructure in particular, they build tunnels, bridges, and so huge projects. And they were looking to remove nitrogen from stormwater runoff. And so we had actually done a lot of other projects in the past around water treatment and water purification. What was really cool is they had never done external partnering or external innovation before. And their goal was to just fund one project.

They ended up funding three projects. But the smallest project was one they weren’t even going to do, but it was really a low cost project. It was only $15,000 to do like initial proof-of-concept. That kind of money is often something that a university researcher wouldn’t even bother applying to. But a researcher at University of Minnesota, who had never worked with industry before, she had been a PI for I think 20 plus years. She responded to it and she got the $15,000. The project itself only took her about a month, so it’s not like this was like a six-month project. Oldcastle was happy with those initial results and then ended up doing a follow-on funding of over $300,000.

We try to educate the investigators that there’s always opportunities to build the relationship and the partnership. It’s not like a government grant where it’s like a start and a finish. And so that was a really great example. And also it was cool because she had no idea that her research was really relevant to industry.

Yeah. Let alone an industry that builds bridges.

Yeah, exactly.

Yeah. If you’re working on water filtering, how do you convince a researcher like that to come on the platform then? Is that the TTO talking to their own researchers or are you doing any kind of active outreach programme? If they’ve never worked with industry, they might not even think of Halo as a thing to join.

Yeah. Some of them are on our website, but the vast majority find out about it through those two channels I talked about. So through the RoboScout or the ecosystem partners. So there’s a lot of sharing that goes on. So the TTOs or the corporate relations officers, they all learn about our briefs and then they’ll share it with the relevant investigators. In the case of the University of Minnesota investigator, I believe she found out about it from another researcher, which also happens a lot because they know what their colleagues are working on too.

With RoboScout, those emails actually come directly from Halo. So they usually learn about it directly from Halo, from that email or from their actual admin.

Okay. Yeah. That makes sense. Who pays for the platform then? Do corporates pay a membership fee? Do universities have to pay a fee to be on the platform?

Yeah. That’s another key difference is it’s totally free for universities. It’s free for researchers. It’s free for startups. It’s free for anyone on the supply side that’s submitting their proposals. We charge the companies an annual subscription depending on certain features and usage.

How many projects and yeah, those kinds of things. Yeah. You yourself incubated Halo at a university as well, University of Chicago’s Polsky Center. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience?

Yeah. So I actually went to Kellogg. So I’m a little bit of a trader incubating Halo at the Polsky Center. But the Polsky Center was fantastic. We were part of a cohort of around, I think it was maybe like eight startups and we worked out of the Center and we’re really literally sitting within the tech transfer office and the corporate relations office at Polsky is basically all of those things together.

And so they were very helpful in making connections to other investigators, other ecosystem partners and really helped us lay up our very first corporate sponsor, which was Baxter.

Did you come to Polsky with this idea or did the idea for Halo change while you were incubating the company?

So the idea changed, but before we began incubating it. So the original idea for Halo was actually crowdfunding for university research. So the idea… and specifically focused on life sciences and pharma. So the idea was, I’m sure you’ve heard the Valley of Death and Drug Development.


And so the idea was, well, usually to get over that valley, they don’t need tens of millions of dollars. They need maybe $500,000 for a de-risking project or a toxicology project. And so the idea was, couldn’t we crowdfund that $500,000 project by working with the alumni relations office, getting money from alumni or from these foundations that care about that cause. So that was the initial idea. It was actually very challenging. That’s probably another podcast episode.

What kind of clued me into this bigger opportunity was that corporates were trying to work with academic scientists and early stage startups, but they were kind of doing it in a very ad hoc antiquated way. It reminded me how recruiting work before LinkedIn or the internet, it’s just going to a couple of conferences. And so the idea for Halo was basically to do for R&D partnering what LinkedIn did for recruiting. And so that idea had already been fleshed out. We had, I think one customer, we had just started working with Baxter, but it hadn’t launched or anything. And so, yeah.

Do you, and I know if you’ve given me the example of the construction company and Baxter, obviously, do you have any numbers on how the platform skews? Is it still more life science companies that are on the platform or is it fairly spread out across industries?

So the thing with industries is that you can be in food and beverage, or you can be in medicine or any number of industries, but still be interested in life science or physical science because these companies are so big, you know, PepsiCo has a chief medical officer. They also care about manufacturing and they also care about sustainability and everything else. So on a supply side, we have a lot of material scientists and chemical engineers and chemists just by virtue of the needs that have been placed on Halo. So there’s been a lot around sustainability across industries, you know, even pharma obviously cares about sustainability as well.

Yeah. So it’s kind of the food and ag and material space is very strong. We have some pharma companies, but not nearly as many. And this is the surprise. As I mentioned, it was originally supposed to be for pharma companies, but we actually have more non-pharma companies on the platform now.

That is very interesting because usually when you think of these things, yeah, life sciences is kind of the obvious one. But the way you talk about it and the way you describe it, yeah, Pepsi and all those kind of big companies are also interested in…

Yeah. And I think it’s because they’re now trying to catch up to pharma. So pharma has been doing external innovation and partnering forever. It’s been, you know, core to their R&D and innovation process. They’ve realised that they can’t develop everything on their own. They have to look externally. And now the non-pharma industries are seeing how that’s a benefit to them.

And especially when you have things like climate change and sustainability that have very concrete deadlines and urgency around it. They’re realising we can’t just rely on our own internal R&D — it’s cheaper and faster to then find something that’s already been developed to a proof of concept or it’s been de-risked to some degree and then shepherded forward after that.

Do you know if there’s a case of where a corporate has worked with a startup and then ended up investing in the startup itself, has that ever happened? Or is that something that you just completely leave to the corporates?

Yeah, well, we do leave it completely to the corporates. That’s one challenge right now, to be honest, is the corporates don’t always love sharing all the inside baseball and what happens afterwards. But I do believe that some… Bayer actually runs their Grants4Ag programme through Halo. And it’s a little different than some of the traditional RFPs on Halo because it’s not a sponsored research project. It’s actually a gift or a grant. And it’s not just a couple of researchers, it’s 20 to 25. I do believe that they’ve ended up kind of extending the partnership with some of those startups. I don’t exactly know how many.

That’s quite interesting, actually. Is that an aspect that you think Halo will tap in more, the philanthropic angle?

It’s not a focus right now. It’s really depending on the goal of the corporate. So most of the companies that we work with, they are trying to solve like a very specific technical problem. The platform is flexible enough that it can work for any type of partnership model or engagement model. When they create their opportunity, they can select gifts as one of the options. They can also select licensing, they can select supply, they can select all of them.

But it’s sometimes a PR play, I find, for other companies when they’re kind of giving just a grant out. In the case of Bayer, they’re genuinely trying to build these R&D partnerships with very early investigators, but just doing it on a very small scale.

Yeah, that makes sense. Staying on the startups then for a second, you are also building, and I’m not sure if you mentioned this, a directory of startup programmes.


Can you tell me a little bit about what that does?

As you know, there’s a lot of just general accelerators that are popping up, like IndieBio has been around for a while, and Gener8tor. But a lot of companies have realised, “Why don’t we just do these on our own? Why do we need to pay somebody else and just piggyback and be one of 10 companies that are sponsoring an accelerator? We’ll just create our own accelerator or our own incubator and do it ourselves.” And they have the resources and the expertise to execute on the actual programme once they find those startups.

But what they don’t have and what takes a lot of work for them is literally finding the startups and ensuring that they’re quality. And then even things like setting up a landing page and then evaluating the startups in an easy way that doesn’t involve like Excel or some tool that was really not designed for that purpose. And so that’s exactly what Halo does. So it wasn’t a big lift to create an adjacent product that was around aggregating all of the corporate-sponsored accelerators and incubators out there and making it easy for the researchers or easy for the startups to find them and also apply to them.

So just like the RFP, there’s a common application. The same questions are asked. Just like for the RFPs, the companies have a very easy to use evaluation system that they can rate and review and provide feedback in collaboration with their colleagues.

So we just launched it in January. The first programme was with Bayer pharma. They have a Co.Lab Cambridge programme. We just closed that out and there was 30-plus startups applied to that. It was gene therapy and oncology startups. And so that was a really big success. And they are also launching their Co.Lab Berlin, their Co.Lab Shanghai and Co.Lab Kobe programmes on Halo.

So even now, if you’re interested in the Berlin programme, you can opt in to be notified when that opens. And then we also just launched a program for Bayer CropScience and we’re speaking to some of our other customers like ESF and PepsiCo about putting their programmes on the platform as well.

Was that something that the corporates pitched to you? Or was that something that kind of evolved out of other feedback that you got from startups and corporates?

It was on the product roadmap, but then Bayer specifically asked about it and asked if they could do it. And so when you have a customer who specifically needs that service and you’re thinking about it, we kind of pushed it to the front. And so that was good validation to know that they actually were looking for that feature.

Do you track any equity, diversity and inclusion data points among the research submissions?

We don’t right now. I do think that’s a big opportunity, though. We’ve had some conversations about having the applicants be totally blind. Diversity, equity and inclusion, there’s the obvious things, but also just from less represented institutions. And I think there’s a lot of bias in the community about, “oh, well, they are at this university, maybe they’re not as good. We only want to work with Harvard, Stanford and Yale because nobody outside of those three schools could possibly be developing breakthrough research”. And so to kind of get rid of that inherent bias, you can’t possibly not even allowing them to see that.

So yeah, not right now, but it’s certainly something we can do if a company would be interested in that.

Have you seen that on the platform, that partnerships tend to skew towards the more bigger established R1 universities? Well, I guess in the US it would be specifically R1 universities.

Yeah. So it’s really interesting. We did look at this and no, even the R3s and the R2s were just as likely to be advanced and rated highly as the R1s.

Okay. So it isn’t just Harvard and Stanford and MITs.

No, no. We have universities in over 100 countries. And so it’s not even only US universities either. It’s universities that are in the developing world that I had never even heard of that now have the opportunity to connect with Unilever or BASF, which they really wouldn’t have an opportunity to. They don’t have tech transfer offices and corporate relations officers to help them connect. For those researchers especially, we’re providing a service.

Do those international partnerships happen a lot then? And I guess for someone like Unilever, which is a global company, it’s perhaps more easy than smaller companies.

They do happen a lot. And frankly, most of the companies currently on Halo are large, multilateral, multinational companies. Pretty common for them to be international relationships.


And also, there’s some arbitrage for the companies, right? Because we obviously, in the US, and we want to tout the research institutions in the US, but there are factors that make it harder to work with US institutions sometimes, like the overhead costs and negotiations. So sometimes you might find a really fascinating investigator in a different part of the world, and sometimes you won’t have to deal with those.

Obviously, it’s a case-by-case basis. But by opening up the world to these opportunities, we can find the best fit for the corporate and for the investigator.

Yeah. Truly get access to the world’s brightest minds rather than just in Boston and Silicon Valley.


I’m sure there are also smart people in those cities, but there’s smart people everywhere.

Yes, exactly.

You touched on this. You spent some of your earlier career in marketing. You worked for well-known brands like Chicago Tribune Group, Wall Street Journal, IDEO, and then you joined growth marketing consultancy, Argyle Advisors. What got you interested in the world of startups?

Argyle was really a startup consulting firm. After the Journal, I went to business school at Kellogg. And I took a class early on with Eric Lefkofsky, who was an entrepreneur and went on to start Groupon. And so he reached out to me when Groupon took off about a VC he was starting called Lightbank. And so I was an early employee at that VC, and I was an entrepreneur in residence. So this is, you know, I’m dating myself, this is like 2010-11. And so that was kind of my entry point into tech startups.

So ever since then, I’ve really been at very early tech startups, generally in like a marketing function. But obviously, when you’re that early at a startup, you’re kind of doing a little bit of everything.

Yeah, you do. What is a lesson that you’ve learned, maybe in your earlier career, or maybe since you founded Halo, that you’ve hopefully learned from that others might learn from as well?

I think just like always talk to your customers, and really understand what their challenges and needs are. And also, if you’re trying to validate a business idea, don’t just use words to describe it, because they’re going to bring their own preconceived notions and biases. Like, language is very subjective. And when you describe something in words, it may in their heads mean something completely different. I got a lot of false negatives when I initially proposed the idea of Halo for any variety of reasons.

The companies would say, “Oh, well, you already know all the top researchers in the field,” and a lot of different reasons. And if I had listened to all of them, then Halo wouldn’t exist. But when you put together an actual prototype, and they can actually interact with it and see it, then you get all sorts of insights and they say, “Oh, wow, well, yeah, this is actually really easy to use,” or “I can see this working for this use case or that use case.”

So whenever possible, I would always give some sort of stimuli or an actual product for people to respond to.

It’s quite interesting that corporates, and I get it, big corporations tend to be not too keen on changing things radically with a small startup, or a guy who has an idea that isn’t even yet a startup. But it is quite interesting that there was some resistance to this, “I’ll give you easier access to researchers.”

Yeah, and I would say the other lesson is, these companies are huge. It depends on who the person is you talk to. There have been so many times where I talked to one person out of multiple people, and they’re like, “Yeah, don’t need it, don’t need it.” And then somebody else sees it, they’re like, “Oh my God, where has this been all my life?” So you never know exactly what their job is. The titles can be very confusing. And so, yeah, you can also get a lot of false negatives just by literally talking to the wrong persona. They are just doing something else, and your product is just not relevant to them.

Who does tend to be the person that, in a corporate, signs up to Halo then? Is it the corporate R&D team? Is it some kind of innovation unit?

Yeah, it’s both. So they’re both involved in the decision process. More typically, the first point of contact is generally someone who works in open innovation or external innovation, external R&D, tech scouting. So a more centralised type of function. And of course, it depends on the size of the company.

So a smaller company, it might be business development. And then the R&D team is always part of the process too, because they’re the ones who have the need. And they’re the ones who are going to be evaluating the ideas for the most part and working directly with the researcher or the startup.

Yeah. What is something that you wish the general public knew about this kind of research commercialisation?

The general public, they probably don’t even think about it much, but there’s a lot of really interesting research that’s happening in university labs and startups that will like never see the light of day, just simply because they haven’t found that right industry partner that can shepherd it forward. Because it’s not like these companies are looking for the next Nobel laureate, maybe in a few extreme cases, but they’re looking for some technology or partnership that can solve a very specific problem.

And that technology may be from some startup investigator in a totally different part of the world that has exactly what they would need, but they’ve never made that connection and they don’t know that it exists. So it’s not about the quality of that research or the quality of that partner. It’s just they haven’t met that person yet. And Coke might have a different need than Pepsi. So that specificity really matters. That’s kind of part of the problem we’re trying to solve.

That’s true. I think a lot of people don’t really think about if a corporation has a problem, they think, well, the corporation will solve it somehow, or they don’t. And then, you know, the company doesn’t continue. But they don’t really think about the fact that they might need university expertise or startup expertise to come in and help them solve something that they haven’t figured out themselves.

You launched Halo, so you might have already done it. But if you had a magic wand, what would you change about research commercialisation?

Oh, wow. What would I change if I had a magic wand? Just research commercialisation in general?

As broad as you want to have it, yeah.

I wish it would be a lot quicker. I wish it could happen a lot faster. Because as you know, R&D is a slow process in general. And when you’re putting together an ROI calculation, it’s hard. There’s a lot of probability involved. And ultimately, in five to 10 years, you come up with a product that could be worth billions of dollars. But there’s so many layers of chance and probability that comes before that, it makes it harder to make that argument, which I think is something that like anybody who works in R&D or innovation can sometimes struggle with.

But it also misses the point of all the external benefits that come from those collaborations, where you’re just learning more that you can maybe apply to different parts of your business. Maybe developing these relationships that may support other parts of the company.

Often companies think of this as a way to recruit talent, just build their reputation generally among the scientific community who they may ultimately want to work at that company. Maybe the startup doesn’t work out, but they’re very talented researchers, and then they have a relationship with the company, and they end up working there.

We’re coming up to the end of our time, but is there anything else that you want people to know about Halo before we go?

No, I would just encourage them to go to, create an account, it’s free. And also any startups that are interested in applying for the corporate accelerators that we have now on Halo.

And then the last feature we haven’t introduced yet, but we are introducing a feature for companies looking for just scientific experts. So less for a long-term project, but more for a very short-term consulting project, or maybe they want to build a scientific advisory committee, or just have a scientific advisor. Just another way to help our community connect and leverage their expertise and work with industry. So that will be coming later this month.

But yeah, thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Thank you, Kevin. It’s been very cool to learn more about Halo.

Thank you.

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).