cover art for Beyond the Breakthrough featuring Laurent Miéville

When Laurent Miéville met one of his first mentors at Stanford University, he was told that Switzerland was about to become a hotspot for innovation and so he made the decision to return and join, in 1998, the University of Geneva where he set up the tech transfer office, Unitec.

He’s led the office ever since, and in that time saw the sector in Europe evolve into the profession it is today. He was president of ASTP from 2007 to 2009 and also found time to write a book, in 2010, looking at how corporations can better collaborate with universities. Over the past decade, that situation has improved in many regards, though Miéville laments the increasing legal complexities of licensing deals.

In this interview, he also talks about how Unitec helps refugees become entrepreneurs and reveals what sectors offer promising opportunities around Lake Geneva (spoiler: despite the abundance of banks in Geneva, fintech isn’t yet one of them).


         Audible logo           


Please note that the intro and outro have been omitted.

Laurent, welcome to the podcast.

Thank you for having me.

I look forward to our conversation. To start with, can you give me an overview of Unitec perhaps with some headline figures, if you have them?

LSure. I mean, Unitec is not a very big technology transfer office, but we still cover quite a large spectrum of inventions. So, typically we have 50 new inventions per year. We license maybe half of them, maybe if we are doing a good job. And we also treat a lot of research contracts and discover mostly industrial partners, and we have maybe 200 of them per year.

So, I would say half of my team activity is more technology transfer, licensing, patenting, and the other half is research contract and collaboration with industry.

A much more traditional tech transfer office than perhaps some others around the world now.

I was trained by people at Stanford when I was there and I followed a bit the leads and since we are not so big, there are 12 people working in my team, it is working well because we can have one fits all service where people can just come to my office and get support in technology transfer, but also in all type of relationship with industry.

Do you do anything to promote entrepreneurship on campus?

LM: Yes. This is something interesting because for many years we did not do much. I studied 20 years ago, so when I started in Geneva, there was really a wish from the researchers to work on even spinout, but only later we realized that we had so many contacts among investors and people active in innovation, and on the other side, we saw students that were struggling to get their ideas supported and be more confident that they can propose some interesting stuff.

So, we decided that 10 years ago to go for a week of training, this was really asking our partners also around the university to come and talk during the week on many subjects and this was aligned with the Global Entrepreneurship Week, which happens always in November in the world. And we said we give it a go and it was a big success.

We were really surprised by the interest of students. In an international city like Geneva, we tend to think that students are more aligned with international relation, international kind of organizations, banks. There are a lot of banks. But actually, it was 10 years ago, the start also of a big interest for students to actually engage in more entrepreneurial activities. So, we have been very successful in the last 10 years by having this week of training, inspiring talk and having thousands of students that come and enjoy being helped by people around them to be confident and to go ahead with the ideas. So, I think it was a very, for me, very important step to bring back to the community what I got by learning my job.

That is amazing. Do you just focus on the campus or do you engage with the wider community in Geneva as well?

So that is also a follow-on from the previous question. We realised there was a very lively, and still is, ecosystem around Geneva. It goes along the lake of Geneva. It is Geneva and Lausanne. Lausanne has the École Polytechnique, which is also very lively, very proactive in terms of entrepreneurship. I was trained at the École Polytechnique and at the University of Geneva. So, for me, it is very easy to engage with the wider community around Geneva, I would say about 50 kilometres, maybe 30 miles around Geneva, and there are a lot of players. So, this is also very important, not only the university proactivity in terms of technology transfer, but we rely on the strengths of the economy, the strengths of the startup ecosystem around us and we are lucky in Geneva and Lausanne. It is a very active and very interesting place to be.

The other side of the coin is that it could be seen from somebody without too many hints or indications of who is doing what a very complex ecosystem. So, you want a very lively, a very diverse ecosystem, but at some point it can be seen as very complex. So, we also serve a bit like a guide for people that want to move around this ecosystem to help them find the correct partner.

Following on from that, are there any specific opportunities in the ecosystem around Lake Geneva?

I think that if you are into being in a very international place, having a lot of connection with abroad and being also in the centre of Europe, I think it is a good place to be and so we see many people also from France, from other countries. We had contacts from people from Portugal also. They look at Switzerland as a very interesting place to learn about innovation. It is not so well known, but Switzerland, is pretty high in the ranking.

Of course, innovation, competitivity, people know that, but also in technology transfer, there are a few rankings in the world and they also put Switzerland very high, at the top or maybe the top five best places for technology transfer. I think the reason for that is that because Switzerland, and Geneva in particular is very open to international people, international collaborations.

People are used to negotiate in different languages, and they are flexible, they understand the different cultures. So at least Geneva is a great place, and there is a lot of research done in Geneva. There are many international research organisations in the areas, so very dense and very, I would say challenging, but also exciting place to be.

On that note, what are some of the challenges, other than perhaps the complexities in the ecosystem?

Well, I would say one of the challenges is that there is still a part of Geneva that is very secrecy of banking. It is not very open. There is also type of industry in the banking system that is used to be very quiet. That is part of why Geneva is also attractive, because it is very discreet. So sometimes it clashes a bit with the, you need much more openness in the innovation part. So, one of the challenges is how can we also help industry in banks or very kind of business, but how can we change this part of the business to really join the ecosystem of innovation and to make sure that Geneva is getting also very innovative, not only into research and science-based technologies, but also that there is maybe a more poor innovation behaviour from places and domains that are much more conservative.

So, sometimes it is more easy to engage with outside Geneva. There are people working in banks with new type of I would say it could be a blockchain and stuff like that, and I think Geneva is waking up now. There are a lot of banks that are realizing they have to be very proactive in term of innovation because it is moving fast now, also in the banking system.

So, I think on the one hand, it is a place that is nice because it has been on a tradition base, but at the same time, you need to push them a bit to be more open to innovation. I think this is also the job of the university and to engage with the more conservative places and industry. But I think they work well because Geneva is a small city. It looks big from the outside because of the name and how Geneva is seen from abroad, but it is not a big city, so it is easy to cross the city by foot and to engage with people at any place in the city. So, we need to help them. We need to be more pushing them. But they are open to be pushed a bit, so that is fine.

What are the areas in which Geneva excels then? Is it fintech?

I think fintech is one of them, but it is still growing. As I said, we still have to push and there are private banks that do not see too much complexity in term of innovative approach. They are more looking at very conservative and that is also why people like them because they have been there for a long time and they will not change their business model in one year. There are also very interesting things in terms of security and cryptography and that banking system is very much interested in that. So, as you know, there is always the risk of somebody breaks the cryptography that we use every day by going online and stuff like that.

This is of cryptography based on something that can be broken, and the question of the rise of quantum computing is also putting this on a very sensitive place. So, we have a few technologies that are going from the university a few years ago, and they provide a very high level of security. So, this is also a place where Geneva is seen as very innovative using basic science to be very innovative in term of cryptography and helping the banking system, but also on a more broad aspect, any organization to be secure in the time of the communication.

How does your engagement from women and researchers from minority background fair? Do you track those numbers?

LWe do not track numbers, but we are very proactive as if I go back to this entrepreneurship week, we organize sessions where it is really women speaking in front of other women. And also, we organize a session for example, of entrepreneurship and people that are refugees, for example, and how can they organize themselves to be entrepreneur? So, I think it is good to also have close collaboration with association, there association of women entrepreneurs, and we engage with them and we allow them to give interesting talks.

We do not really have a very specific list of indicators, but I think we are making sure that whenever we talk about innovation or entrepreneurship, we have to find a panel of people that are women and men and then we see a different behaviour also in term of the type of entrepreneurship that they develop. Sometimes it is not so easy to find. There are not so many women entrepreneurs as men, but we are always trying to find as much as we can. Also, the students that we support, we give a prize every year, a series of prizes and there are many, many women now that are getting the prizes.

So, we see there is a very growing interest, and they are also in technologies that are linked to women’s health and that are very successful. So, overall, I think women are becoming almost the majority of the students that are following our entrepreneurship week.

One thing you do not help with is capital management for your spinouts. What prompted that decision?

We have two reasons for that. The first one, the main one is that it is very important. When you technically transfer to draw a line when you are helping an entrepreneur to start a company. Of course, in the beginning, it could be a scientist that wants to use an invention, so you help him or her to define if he or she has the ability to do it. If he or she is able to take enough time out of their studies or research, but at some point we always have to go back to our main mission, which is to defend and to negotiate the intellectual property of the university.

So, at some point the company that is creating will have to negotiate with us, and on the other side of the table. So, we draw a line when the company is really starting to be created by raising money. And by finding the management, we do not engage in that activity, but we send the people to other coaches and people outside the university that can help them to do that.

I think it is very healthy to draw this line and sometime it could be very dangerous because we think we could do a good job, probably yes, but actually there is then a conflict of interest because we are helping the company, but also supporting the university, and at some point, it is very important to draw a line and that is why I think it would be a big problem if we were pushing too far the support for spinouts.

Do your companies generally stay in Geneva or Switzerland or do they move abroad once they start growing or even before then?

That is an interesting question. I think that there is a risk we see in more general in Europe is that the startups are created in Europe based on, could be deep tech or other stuff, but at some point, when they raise money, they get investors from all over the world, and sometimes it could be tempting to also go into a US market and with US investors.

We see, for example, in life sciences that we had one situation where a startup studied in Geneva, but at some point, they got an investor from Asia and the investor wanted the company to move to Asia. And the question was, Is the university pushing for the company to stay in Geneva, or we actually go along with the investor, and we would be okay to have the company move to Asia? It is a difficult question because you always have to figure out what is best for the technology. At some point, our goal is to make sure that the technology is put in the marketplace as fast as possible, especially in life sciences, because this could really change lives of people and at the end we have an advisory board, and we would ask the question, what do you think? And for example, for the example I mentioned the decision was to support the company to be moved to Asia mostly because there was a very interesting partnership to be drawn with a very big player in Asia.

And also, they could raise much more money this way than by staying in Geneva where it was more difficult. But this is a very specific case, but there are situations where sometimes the company needs some office space, specific stuff that is maybe difficult to get in Geneva because Geneva is not a huge place for companies, and it could be high to pay a monthly rent. But I would say the most interesting thing when we ask people, why are you staying in Geneva, it is because they want to keep a very close collaboration with the university. So just to give you another example, we have this cryptography company that got also a big investment from Asia, but they decided to stay in Geneva because they wanted to continue collaborating with the university. So, I am not afraid we lose them. There are some of them, they are better off by going away.

But many of them, they stay around Geneva because they enjoy collaboration and they would continue collaboration with the university.

I want to move back to your own office for a second as well. How easy is it to find tech transfer practitioners for Unitec in the current climate?

That is a very actual question because we have somebody from my team that is going to be on maternity leave for a few months. And so we are going to hire and try to find somebody. I would say it is not so difficult, but what is difficult is really to find people with a lot of experience in technology transfer. We can find people with a little bit of experience, this is not too difficult.

But to find a more experienced practitioner is more difficult because there are not so many of them on the market, but this is okay because our team is a pretty experienced team. People around me have 10, 15, 20 years or so of experience doing technology transfer.

So, we are not really shy of hiring a young promising technology transfer practitioner because we know we can train them. So, I would say to find an experienced manager in technology transfer is not easy, but to find kind of young and promising people, then it is not too difficult because Geneva is a good place to be, and Switzerland is a good place to work and so it is very difficult for somebody to say no to the conditions we offer, but of course sometime they like to move from our place to industry and back. I would say overall it is not a big problem, but it still relies on having young and fresh people from industry that want to also come back to university discovery and basic research.

Do they tend to be Swiss staff or is it more international?

It is pretty international. We have people from France. We have people from Switzerland. We have people from other places in Europe in my team. We used some time to speak in English among us because they were even people not speaking French. So, we are very flexible and of course it relies also on being in the centre of Europe.

So, we are lucky to be in a place that is easy for us to hire people from abroad, but also we try to find people also active in Switzerland. We try to first look around Geneva and make sure that maybe there are some people close to us that could be interesting for us, but if we do not find them, we can also go beyond, but I would say the ecosystem around Geneva is pretty good, so we can find people also locally.

We do not have to really to put ad very far away from Geneva to find people that we are looking for.

Brilliant. You co-authored a book in 2010 called Science to Business where you looked at how corporations could engage more effectively with universities. You have previously also said that domestic corporations had proved the most difficult to partner with. Has that situation improved at all over the last decade or is it still the same?

Yes, it has improved. My experience is that 20 years ago when I started, it was still very early activity in Switzerland. They were not so many places doing technology transfer and also some companies were used to have a very, very broad and very important influence on technology transfer. They would go directly to researchers and basically define themselves the strategy and the framework of the technology transfer.

When we started of course, these companies sometimes were not very happy because they could not really get everything they wanted. We had to tell them that some conditions were not okay. Especially big companies that have been in Switzerland for a long time, they felt that because they are in Switzerland, they pay a lot of taxes. It was normal for them to benefit from the research done locally.

And for some of them, we had really trouble getting through an agreement when we were negotiating and one big one, we could not find an agreement because they could not really align with our way of looking technology transfer, but this is now gone because these companies have been now in contact with many universities, also outside Switzerland and with the open innovation type, there are so many connections between companies and universities that I would say it is almost impossible to find a company that has had almost no experience collaborating with a public research institution.

It is better and it is good, and part also of the job of professionals doing technology transfer to set some kind of best practices among not only universities, but also companies in terms of technology transfer.

Yes, of course. Are there areas that still need improvement?

LM: By direction, I would say mostly is the legalisation of technology transfer and contracting, and there is a growing kind of legalisation. Everything is becoming more complex in terms of the law and the rules. Most of the companies, especially the bigger ones, they rely on more and more lawyers and looking very, very deeply on the legal part.

And instead of being a more transactional business, it has become a more legal business and it could be very difficult when you are facing somebody that is purely legal because their job is to minimize the legal risks and it is different from a negotiating person that is much more into reaching a good agreement, where there could be interesting stuff and putting the risk, but also looking at the opportunities. So, I would say we see that mostly with US companies because they have more and more very strict legal background and framework and we have to go through complex legal discussions, but in Europe, luckily we are not so far in terms of legalisation of stuff.

So, we still are able to engage in a more flexible kind of discussion without having too many legal issues. So, I think the improvement I would say is to have people that are still negotiating people with enough power to engage the company without relying on too many legal and lawyers that could be putting a break on many things in term of collaboration. I wish the legal people would be more aware of the issue of negotiating with technology transfer.

Is there something you wish a corporate knew when they approach a tech transfer office?

I think once you went through one of two negotiating with the company, then you have a much better way of collaborating because you know which is the good person to engage and you know the limit of the negotiation and I would say the most difficult deals are the ones made with the company where your counterpart is not aware of the best practices of technology transfer, or maybe the person has a legal consult that is really not into the best practices.

I think it is very frustrating on both ends probably because we do not talk the same language. We are trying to do that in Switzerland, basically inviting people from the industry that are our counterpart to also take part in conferences and workshops to exchange our best practices, so we get a better common framework where everybody knows where to negotiate and where it is not possible to negotiate.

I wanna look at your own personal career as well, you joined the university in 1998 to found Unitec. Actually, you are a past president of ASTP, you were in charge from 2007 to 2009. What prompted you to pursue a career in tech transfer and what has made you stay at Geneva for these past two and a half decades?

think it is interesting to see that my wish to be in technology transfer really came late. I was a scientist training in Switzerland and I moved to the US. I was lucky to get a scholarship from the Swiss national fund. And so, I was a free researcher going to the US. I was able to go to Stanford. And when I was there, of course, it was a big shock for me as a Swiss to discover Silicon Valley and to realize there are so many connections between Stanford, but also other research institution like Berkeley and Silicon Valley. I also learned how Stanford was doing technology transfer.

As a scientist, I met the number two of the technology transfer office, which is much bigger, but he was a Swiss that had left Switzerland a long time ago and had made his career in the US. He became my mentor. So, I started to discuss with him about innovation in Switzerland and I also started to engage with venture capitalist people. I realised this is a place I like to be in the interface between research and the economy. I studied also to work in a project with a startup that was created out of Stanford.

So, I realised that I was actually doing technology transfer without being myself a technology transfer professional. I was in the middle of a lot of technology transfer activities. So, I spoke to my mentor in at Stanford and he said, you should go back to Switzerland because you have an opportunity because Switzerland is just opening up for technology transfer activities.

And he was right actually, when I came back 20 years ago, there was really an open field about technology transfer. There were a lot of people that were starting, but still learning by doing. So, I decided to go back to Geneva that they just were starting to look for somebody to create starting a technology transfer office. It was a very interesting time.

People were collaborating a lot among universities and it was a very interesting time because you could really do a difference by putting in place such a structure. There were really a lot of people that wanted your help, and I am very grateful to my mentor to have been very convincing. And he was right. I would say from 2000 to 2010, it was a very interesting place to be creating the technology transfer scene in Switzerland.

That neatly leads me on to my next question, which is what changes have you seen over the past couple of decades?

So, after 10 years setting up the stage of technology transfer and contributing with others at making it a good place to be for Swiss universities, we saw that technology transfer became more mainstream. Suddenly you could see that a lot of universities were engaging more and more. It is now a much more structured system.

There is an association in Switzerland called SwiTT, Swiss Technology Transfer, that has now many players, many members. And I would say that we moved from a more startup spirit to a more, we are now trying to get much more structured in terms of evaluation of risk, evaluation of opportunities, and processes are much more defined and the researchers. So, we see a lot of young researchers now that are from the start very sensitive to technology transfer.

It was not the case maybe 20 years ago, where research was much more looking at publication and peer recognition. Now it is much more also to show that you are able to translate your research into a practical kind of impact. So, we see more researchers looking at technology transfer as a way to boost their career and to boost also their research. So, at the same time you are above the radar, so you have to deal also with interest from many people in the university, just to be, you are free to do a lot of things because you have no competition but now there are so many, many people that are looking at innovation as a way to develop their own activities, incubation, coach, and so we also have to defend our skills and our services because we are seeing a much more crowded ecosystem of technology transfer and innovation.

But luckily, we have all the contact with the researchers and they know us, they know what we do, so we have a pretty good place right now, even though I think in the future, it could be becoming a normal job because then there is no more this startup kind of, I would say the early days are maybe gone and that is normal. It is we are much more mature in our profession than it was before.

Is there any advice you would give to someone starting out in this career today?

Yes, I think when people, especially people doing science say, Look, I am in interested in innovation and technology transfer, I always give them the advice you should go really to industry, try to get experience in industry because this is very important in your future job to be credible, to be seen as a real professional and you need to understand also the way companies are doing innovation and technology transfer on their side. It is not so easy because sometimes for a young researcher to find the position in industry and doing innovation related stuff, sometimes it is tough.

And so, what we do is we also help a scientist by having them for six months in our place. They look at what we do. They help us doing the technology transfer activities. And so, this gives them something on their resume that is more innovation oriented. And after that, the find a job in industry and they go there for many years or for a few years, and then after that they could come back or they could be hired by another office.

We tell them to go for industry, but we also help them to do those because it is nice to tell them to do this and that, but we realize we can also help them a bit. We had in the last few years, we had maybe 20 young researchers that came to our office for six months, worked with us and then moved to industry and so it is also having ambassadors there and people that we can connect easily with. So, we are very happy with this way of having these trainee people within our team.

I had someone else on the podcast and I cannot remember who it was now, unfortunately, but they said that when someone leaves the office, they do not think of it as losing a member of staff, they think of it as expanding their network. And I thought that was a really nice way of looking at it.

And I think it is also good for my team to realize that we have skills and knowledge that are useful for others. It is also technology transfer in a way it is more competency transfer, but it is also part of our job to, because this is not so easy to learn, you have to learn by doing, so having people with us, it is also a great way to train them.

If you had a magic wand, is there anything you would change about how tech transfer is done either at Unitec or more generally?

This is more the dinosaur wish. I was very lucky when I started to have, as I said, a mentor in Stanford, but other mentors also in MIT and I would say 20 years ago, you could go anywhere in Berkeley, in MIT, in all the big places and join and discuss with your colleagues in technology transfer like friends and engage with very leading people in the world doing technology transfer, but very, very accessible people and of course, in the last few years, these people have become old and retired and I lost my contacts also with many very inspiring people.

This is a more personal note, but my motivation is also linked to the connection I have with people that inspire me. So of course, I like to go back in time and maybe engage with my previous mentor who died in the last few years. But I think my message for young people or for people in the job is really to go out, look for people that are inspiring you and engage with them. Do not hesitate to talk to them, visit them when you can.

And these people will also feed your profession and feed a wish to move further. It is very key to have these people. And in our profession, there is no competition among the technology transfer offices, because we all rely on our own intellectual properties. So, it is so nice to be able to travel the world and to be in contact with so many people in different places and feel some kind of a community belonging. So, I wish that this community belonging was still getting stronger and stronger, but I think maybe in the future with having much more people in the job, it will be more difficult to maintain in a way.

Yes. I have had that feeling at Autm’s events where it is thousands of people in a room, and it can feel a bit impersonal. Obviously, you talk to people, you meet new ones sitting next to you, but it is just such a huge gathering that it can feel very inaccessible.

The funny thing is that there are people now coming from the US to Europe and they go to conferences organised by ASTP, our European association, because they say they are lacking this in the US because it is so big and they go back to Europe or they go to Europe because they find in Europe there is still this connection and the conferences are smaller and the people know each other and they are more friendly to each other. So, yes, I think we are lucky still in Europe to have this nice community.

But it is growing and we are going to have the same issues that we see in the US. So maybe in 10 years or 20 years, there will be other fields that are opening up and maybe it would be good to also look at these fields for meeting people with the very pioneering kind of approach.

I feel like I should clarify that this is not about Americans not being accessible. I know the heads, even at the famous offices like Stanford, Columbia, or MIT are always happy to help and one even took time to guest host an episode off this podcast. But they are very busy people and their networks are enormous.

Exactly. No, I think you are right. It is just normal in the US. It is a more normal large activity. It is a big profession, but it is normal. It is part of the development of a profession. It was very early-stage in Europe a few years ago. Now it is much more mature.

But you get advantage and disadvantage, but I still find they were very leading persons in the US a few years ago, and these persons were so accessible and so nice with so many people. Now, there are so many people that it is more difficult to reach them, but still, I think there are still very interesting people also in the US that it is nice to engage with.

Yes. I never know how they have so many hours in the day. Maybe that would be my magic wand to use, have limitless hours in the day.

I think also be open to… I think a career can be defined by the people you meet actually and the impression they make on you. For me, it was very key to meet key people and to be always curious to meet new people. I took one year off my job 10 years ago, went to Boston University to meet economist people, and had great discussion with them.

They allowed me to be in meetings of the technology transfer office of Boston. Anytime I could see from the inside, how it was. So, I am so thankful for these people to be so open and sharing their knowledge. I think this is also so nice to be in a profession where it is not family, but you have so many friends you can link with them in any place, that I think it is very fortunate for us to be in that spot.

You have already hinted out some spinouts, but can you give me some examples of Unitec companies, perhaps that cryptography one?

Sure. This cryptography company is called ID Quantique. It is a very interesting story because it started 20 years ago, and we just the celebrated 20th anniversary of the company yesterday. It is interesting on many points. It is interesting because it is based on quantum physics, I am a physicist, so it has always been a very interesting, but also intriguing theory and something that looked very exotic and not very close to applications, but actually this company showed that you can make many products using quantum technology and they are very successful and they do things that are from big equipment that could use you know quantum cryptography to make you sure that your communication is secure, but they also make very, very small chips that go into for example, mobiles, and they used a random number generator that is using also quantum physics and so the randomness of the number is perfect because it is from the quantum theory.

So, the main message there is shows that very basic research that has been supported many years by public funds can lead to very, very strong, and I would say innovation that would change the future. And sometimes people question why universities are doing so much basic research. They do not realize by doing so much basic research, you also open up so many doors for having, not only incremental innovation, but very interesting innovation in places you never were expecting.

So, I think the University of Geneva is still a very lucky place because there are many people that can do very basic research. For us as a technology transfer profession it is key to also make sure that we get discoveries that are very out of the box and suddenly surprising. And I would say ID Quantique is a very good example of something coming out of a very basic kind of activity. But it requires people that not only have a very strong, they know the theory of quantum physics, which is not easy, but also can understand the, how you can translate that in applications.

So, we were lucky to have very key people in Geneva for many years that were able to create the company and then to go along with all the collaboration, and the technology transfer office was really helping, but they were the drivers, and we were actually helping them to be successful, not only in science, but also in business. In terms of product companies, I would say that we had some interesting companies that were working also in life sciences where the latest one that is coming out is a very interesting company that is using the iPhone for recording sounds that you use with your stethoscope.

So, you can have an electronic stethoscope and analyse the sounds with the iPhone to make a better prediction of what is your problem. Looking at stethoscopes, not only by regular, like all the doctors that listen to your heart or listen to how you breathe and your lungs are using, also the capacity now with our electronic phones and mobile phones to be much more precise in figuring out if you have maybe covid or if you have other disease and I think it is interesting to see this often at the intersection of science, but also different fields that you find very interesting application.

And the last one I can mention is a very successful partnership between one of the businesses in Geneva is a company doing all type of chemicals for the perfume industry and also having a flavour and when you buy a certain type of I do not know if you want to wash your clothes, you have all these type of flagons.

And these are two companies in Switzerland that are very, very big in international, but they were lacking the knowledge of the university around emotions. What is creating emotions? Do you have emotions when you smell something special? How can you measure emotions on people’s faces when they are maybe smelling something, perfume or something like that?

Suddenly they realised that by working with the university, they could address and access a lot of issues that are much more basic, but very important for them to realize if they could be better in their job of making fragrance and maybe having more emotion linked to fragrance and so it has been a very successful partnership working with also basic science, but also a pretty advanced company doing a lot of research on their side.

Wow. That is three very interesting choices and very different choices. I always like hearing a wide spectrum of innovations. That is fascinating.

Exactly and also we are looking in Geneva to have a very broad university with a lot of different faculties in science, but psychology, in life science. In research we also work with the hospital. So, we are lucky to be sitting on a very large platform of researchers and discoveries. So, it is really, every day we have a surprise of something new coming up and for people like me and my team, it is like a surprise and being nice to be in such a place to see all the discoveries and potential collaboration that we could draw with industry.

Something to keep you coming back to the office every day. We are sadly almost out of time. Is there anything else that you want people to know?

My advice is that if you are curious about meeting different types of people, if you like science, but also economy and innovation, I think you should know that technology transfer is a good place to be.

You can be in the morning with researchers and discussing a new discovery and being in the labs and using your maybe scientific background and feeling that you are on the edge of the latest development in a certain field of research, but also you will be in the afternoon discussing much more business related issues, like creating a company, like also working with a company and figuring out what would be the royalty rate and how can you design the intellectual property to make sure that the company is really successful in putting a product on the market.

So, I think if people are interested in the profession, I think it is a very interesting place to enjoy using a very wide spectrum of knowledge and so for those who do not see themselves as a scientist or as a pure businessperson, I think it is a great place to be.

And also, if some people are interested to start a company, but they do not have their own project, sometimes working in a technology transfer office gives you also a very wide overview about projects that are starting to create the company and maybe some time you can jump on the bandwagon and be an entrepreneur yourself.

Yes, I would say it is a place that is very interesting if you have some wish to develop your skills and to be an entrepreneur, you can also be a technology transfer officer for some time.

Those are some great closing words. Laurent, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. It has been fascinating and a lot of fun.

My pleasure, Thierry, that was nice also and changing, and thanks for having me today on the podcast.

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).