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Noeleen O'Hara by Noeleen O'Hara

Unlike the fellows from the previous two cohorts, the lucky ten LifeArcAUTM fellows cohort 2021–2022 were able to attend the first in-person post-Covid-19 pandemic European knowledge/technology transfer meeting in Lisbon. The 2022 ASTP annual conference was held between the 18th and 20th of May and was jam-packed with informative and interesting workshops provided by both seasoned and early-stage knowledge transfer experts.

Since the LifeArc fellows are all situated in Europe, we were looking forward to the meeting in the hopes of better understanding the European knowledge transfer (KT) environment, developing a European network, and learning more about the aims of the European KT sector.

The article's authors:

Elitza Deltcheva, PhD, Research Associate, UCL Cancer Institute, London, UK

Alberto Gatta, PhD, Research Associate, The Francis Crick Institute, London, UK

Ju Yeon Han, PhD candidate, University of Heidelberg

Monika Zwirek, PhD, Senior Scientist at the MRC PPU in Dundee, Scotland

The power of positive No - how to be assertive while dealing with academics and industry partners!

“Good leaders say No more often than they say Yes”- Steve Jobs

On day one, Tom Flanagan, Director of Enterprise and Commercialisation at NovaUCD University College Dublin took us through a difficult aspect of everyone’s job in the session entitled “How to say "no" to researchers and industry!”. During the 2 hours masterclass Tom engaged nearly 100 participants in interactive exercises and discussions where we all had to ask ourselves several important questions: why it is so difficult to say “No”?; how, when and why to say it? We learnt that those more experienced in the profession were more likely to set clear boundaries and limits, while managing to maintain positive relationship. Youngsters, in contrast, admitted that they often committed themselves to undoable tasks. During the session, Tom highlighted the importance of having a plan B, shared strategies and tips of effective negotiation and stressed that partnering with people with complementary skillsets could be one of the most successful methods while aiming to turn a “No, because” into a “yes, if”.

An impact of technology transfer and the value of training new professionals

The term "impact" was repeated multiple times during the meeting, and it was clear that different stakeholders had varying interpretations of its meaning.

Impact is not new, but it has never been assessed, as presenters pointed out during the Knowledge Stock Exchange session, and there is a definite need to examine socio-economic impact when dealing with new technology.

Participants were challenged to consider science's overall impact. How can we have a beneficial influence on the local environment and foster excellent public relations while prioritising academics, which is our primary responsibility as KT professionals? Hence, how can we foster a welcoming and supporting environment?

Sandra Gässler and Moritz Bradler also emphasised the significance of boosting KT offices' transparency for start-ups so that they are more approachable and perceived as helpful institutions.

Our two colleagues, Agnieszka Szemiel and Nessim Kichik, introduced the LifeArc-AUTM fellowship this year as well. They emphasised how the fellowship equipped us with a wide range of tools and contacts, as we transitioned from bench to TT roles.

Further to these, Rikke Lynge Storgaard and Hannes Rothe showed practical examples from Denmark and Germany for two recently developed p2i (postdoc to innovation) schemes aiming to support transition from research to entrepreneurship through funding, training and mentoring. Although very well structured and generous, some issues became apparent during the discussion, such as lack of support after the end of the scheme and no easily accessible funding for the newly made innovators. Whilst these must be addressed, it was great to see that the need for such schemes is recognized and options are available for European researchers with an entrepreneurial spirit!

Key tips of effective networking by Sue…Sue Tonks

Networking is key to a successful KT career. However, after living and working in isolation for almost 2 years, some (or most of us) may have become a bit rusty in their networking skills. How do you approach a group of 2 (or 3 or 4) if you don’t know them? How do you say your name, so it’s not immediately forgotten? What if you don’t know the names of everyone else in the group? Delivered by Sue…Sue Tonks, this session was an unforgettable and entertaining demonstration of the awkward moments we all experience at conferences. The visual tips on how to best overcome these were used immediately after the session and will remain in our communication arsenal for the future.

EDI in the TT/KT ecosystem

Equality/Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) policies in the workplace, academia, and all sectors of society have been recognised as a powerful driving force for innovation and a central element of success on a global scale. The same discussion about racial and other inequalities in science, academic innovation, and medicine, has also started within the TT community to assess how we can make things more inclusive. Anji Miller, Senior Business Manager at LifeArc (UK) moderated a round table with Megan Aanstoos, New Venture Manager at Kentucky Commercialization Ventures (USA), Maria Rahmany, Associate Director for Business Development and Portfolio Management at Columbia University (USA), and Lisa Mueller, US Patent Attorney and Partner at Casimir Jones (USA).

The discussion started with definitions. Preferred over the term equality, Equity means providing equal opportunities through a personalized approach, utilizing custom tools that identify and address inequality to level the playing field. Diversity describes a wide variety of differences that may exist amongst people in any setting, including ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual identity, disability, neurodiversity. Inclusion is the act of bringing together and harnessing diverse forces to ensure that everyone feels safe, welcome, and included but still in possession of one’s own uniqueness.

Both Lisa Mueller and Maria Rahmany explained how they were actively involved in developing programs in the past two years that tackled lack of diversity and inclusion in the TT world both from an IP firm and an academic TTO perspective. Casimir Jones started two programs (called Patent Academies) also in response to the request of higher diversity from clients. Columbia Tech Ventures started two DICE programs tailored to graduate students or faculty researchers who identify as being from traditionally underrepresented groups. Both initiatives are receiving good feedback, are evolving dynamically in response to participants’ feedbacks, and are producing new TT professionals and innovators aware of the importance of EDI policies in the field because “inclusive innovations are impactful innovations”.

Lisa, Megan, and Anji are among the founders of www.geditt.com a community of TT professionals dedicated to the advancement of EDI policies. Feel free to join the discussion.

Assessing challenging technologies

We cannot underestimate the emergence of new technologies that are challenging to value and protect, and a good part of the conference was dedicated to navigating through these difficulties.

ASTP already has a digital innovation Special Interest Group that discusses trends and opportunities in clinical software, data management and Artificial Intelligence.

Bastian Best emphasized that whether an AI patent is grantable in Europe largely depends on its purpose: it must be technical. For instance, a general purpose, such as controlling an overall technical system, is not considered technical while image analysis is considered technical.

Still, against problems such as various interpretations of a technology in different jurisdictions, Clara Neppel further explained that IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) is generating technical and impact standards and developing metrics which certify that a technology is deemed safe by global experts.

“Just an ordinary guy in an extraordinary place” or Tony Raven as a plenary speaker

The conference ended with the keynote lecture from Tony Raven, the retired Chief Executive of Cambridge Enterprise and the name behind Summit Technology, Sagentia Group plc and Diomed Inc. Tony, who now defines himself as a digital nomad, gave the lecture from his place in Barbados, causing a wave of jealousy in the audience. The informal way he delivered his talk – no slides, just chatting to old (and new) friends about his professional path, made it easy to relate and gave food for thought to all the newbies in the crowd.

What we would advise first-time attendees:

  • Decide in advance what you want to get from the conference – are you looking for a job, connections in another country or improving your KT skills?
  • Check the talks and list of attendees and mark some that you may want to approach
  • Be open, talk to people you don’t know and go to talks that may not necessarily seem relevant – you will gain a lot of new knowledge and will be surprised how many unexpected opportunities will pop up!
  • And most importantly, have fun!

Conclusion and Acknowledgments

As the newbies to this profession, we concluded that for KT professionals to thrive, they must make good use of KT resources, increase visibility, and sustain consistent projects. We will be able to harness the power of both fundamental and translational science into successful inventions by combining this with research empowerment.

The authors would like to express their gratitude to the ASTP team for organising such a terrific in-person conference, which included a variety of instructive presentations as well as some sports activities on the last day. Participants had the choice between a yoga session at the conference location, a morning run, a stroll or bike ride across beautiful Lisbon. We would like to extend our thanks to the former LifeArc-AUTM fellows we met and who shared their perspectives with us.

We already feel part of a larger community and look forward to future ASTP meetings!

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