Why the future rests on university-business collaborations
Politecnico di Torino
Dec 19 | 6 minutes read
There’s no denying the value of university-business collaborations to mankind’s progress.
Throughout history, institutions of higher learning have been regarded as ivory towers of knowledge and new wisdom. The simple spark of an idea within its four walls could herald the beginning of a new information revolution, influencing global thought and catalysing global action.
In fact, some of the greatest inventions of the world had their early beginnings in universities. The internet itself is one; it was Leonard Kleinrock, professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), who in the 1960s pioneered the mathematical theory of packet networks, the technology underpinning the internet.
Lithium-ion batteries, used to power mobile devices and electric vehicles, were the brainchild of American materials scientist Yet-Ming Chiang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT was also where some of the earliest applications of solar power in housing were pioneered, a development that has since been built upon extensively, leading to the power source being regarded as a potential saviour to the climate crisis.
Innovations closer to our time include Google, founded during Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s university days and, of course, Facebook, which Mark Zuckerberg famously created as a Harvard sophomore.
All these inventions and more have become the driving forces of the global economy today, contributing to international policy and influencing the social order.
But it is not just their university roots that render them so valuable to mankind – it is that they were guided from academia to industry, and turned from ideas and research into real action and products.
Their real value, therefore, lies in the connection between university and industry, or rather, between university and the wider community.
The growing value of university-business collaborations
As the internet enters its third genesis with new technologies quickening the pace of progress across every business sector, there is an even greater need for more of these connections today.
University-business collaborations are important not just to explore new realms of knowledge but to help solve some of the planet’s greatest challenges, from tackling the climate crisis to helping mankind beat debilitating diseases.
It is also critical for business survival; advances in intelligent systems and computing, the digitisation of information, unprecedented access to previously unimaginable realms of data and the democratisation of knowledge— it all mean businesses must remain on a continuous cycle of innovation to retain their competitive edge.
As they begin to recognise this, universities around the world are stepping up to fill the gaps between academia and industry with initiatives and programmes to encourage collaboration.
Politecnico di Torino in Turin, Italy, is one such institution.
Enforcing the university’s ‘third mission’
As Italy’s oldest technical university, Politecnico di Torino is an institution that has withstood the test of time – and technological disruption.
Aware of higher education’s changing role in modern society, the institution’s own objectives have evolved through the years.
The university has expanded its primary goal of shaping tomorrow’s talents and producing research to include higher education’s growing third mission: to address societal and economic challenges, whether by facilitating innovation through collaborations with business or fixing the global skills gap crisis.
It knows that a new piece of research would not become tomorrow’s life-changing invention if merely left as a scientific journal entry to be cited and built upon by other academics.
Today’s academics must venture outside the confines of the university laboratory to advance their ideas. They must engage with industry for technology transfer or knowledge exchange, with the university facilitating these connections.
Always ahead of the curve, Politecnico di Torino made this ‘third mission’ one of four core pillars in its six-year 2018-2024 Strategic Plan, and a critical factor underpinning all activities aimed at innovation and technology transfer at the university.
Bridging university-business gaps with collaborations at Politecnico
University-business collaborations at Politecnico di Torino cover activities from applied research to knowledge exchange, technology transfer and education.
With over 600 full and associate professors and over 300 researchers, the university offers companies interested in innovation access to a wealthy bank of scientific knowledge and decades of experience.
Across 11 multidisciplinary departments at the institution, over 2,500 people carry out research and development activities within the fields of industrial design, architecture and engineering, key expertise areas of the university.
There are several opportunities for businesses, namely:
The Politecnico di Torino provides research and development, and consultancy services to prospective businesses across a wide range of disciplines, as well as support for trials and benefits.
Companies can apply to work on joint research projects with the university at a national, regional, international or European level. They can also opt to share a room with university experts at its campus where research, business and finance work together.
Since 2014, the university has received research grants worth EUR64 million for 214 European and international-level projects (including 167 Horizon 2020 projects worth EUR60 million) and EUR21 million for 134 national and regional-level projects.
It has also collaborated on research and development with some of industry’s biggest hitters in the realm of industrial design, engineering and technology and beyond, from the likes of IBM, Microsoft, HP and Siemens to Ferrari, Pirelli, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Michelin, among others.
Politecnico di Torino values its commercial partnerships and believes a fundamental part of the relationship is the services it can offer in the periphery to support the innovation process.
As such, as part of its offering to the business community, the university provides patenting support and helps with the enhancing of research results.
Each year, the university files new patent applications for around 60 inventions. A Patent Commission and staff at the university’s own Technology Transfer and Industrial Liaison Department helps inventors with all aspects of the technology transfer process, from patent applications to the external proposal of protected technology and the commercialisation and licensing of patents.
The industrial PhD programme at Politecnico di Torino allows companies to train their employees, already engaged in highly qualifying activities, within the framework of a PhD programme.
This is a bespoke programme that involves research projects jointly carried out with the university and requires both partners to strike an agreement on matters such as duration, share of commitment from the employees involved, and the mode of research.
The high-level apprenticeship programme at Politecnico di Torino is a work-based learning initiative offered by the university.
Through the programme, fresh graduates aged below 30 will be hired by the partner firm to work on a project jointly supervised by the firm and the university. The graduate student will work towards achieving a PhD in Philosophy at the end of the programme.
Politecnico di Torino’s business incubator I3P provides support for the creation and development of innovative start-ups founded by university researchers, students and external entrepreneurs.
Voted the Best Public Business Incubator in the world by UBI Global’s World Rankings of Business Incubators and Accelerators 2019-2020, I3P provides strategic consulting services, coaching, mentoring, fundraising support and spaces.
As the world embraces the change brought by technological advancements, universities have no choice but to change with it, even if it means running at a pace previously unfamiliar to higher education.
This is because progress begets progress; the theory of accelerating returns dictates that technological change is exponential, which means that instead of 100 years of progress, the 21st century is expected to experience over 20,000 years of progress.
But this is a necessary path to walk and universities like Politecnico di Torino have embraced it, creating an ecosystem of support for collaborations with business, and using these connections not just to advance learning and discovery but to make active contributions towards the progress of knowledge, the economy and wider society.
Interested in partnership opportunities with Politecnico di Torino? Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or speak to a university representative at +39 011 090.6317.