Press about RVC

"The document per se will not work; it is people who should work"

Source: Indicator
"The document per se will not work; it is people who should work"

Why Russian scientists do not want to commercialise their developments; how to build a dialogue between science and business; and what is the "rule of 20 miles" at the III Congress of "Innovative practice: Science plus Business" Indicator. Ru told us Evgeniy Kuznetsov, Acting General Director of Russian Venture Company (RVC).

“In the recently adopted Science and Technology Development Strategy of Russia, there is very much to say that the results of scientific work are necessary to commercialise and put into practice. At the same time, Russian scientists usually do not tend to begin business and believe that their business is pure science. What is the reason for that?”

“It is really a huge problem. The lack of focus on commercialisation from Russian scientists is one of the reasons why we do not develop innovations. There are three explanations for this.

Firstly, in Russia, there was a period (before 'Perestroika') when the science was overcrowded with enterprising people. Very many of them went into business at the time when the era of the creation of the market economy began. In the field of technology, there is, for example, Valentin Gapontsev, the founder of IPG Photonics. He is a physicist, and he began to build his company at a rather mature age. For almost 10 years, he had been travelling through Europe and the world searching for contracts. Today, IPG Photonics is the world leader, a monopolist in the industry of high power fibber lasers. The most enterprising part of the scientific community of that time is now working in the business. Those who remained, most likely, had no such interests and desires or motivation.

In addition, in the Russian scientific culture, an abstract attitude to the purpose of science is being preached.”

“Science for science?”

“Exactly. While the rest of the world exactly understands that science co-exists in the developed dialogue with society, providing answers to "big challenges" formulated by it. This implies business, as there is supply and demand.

Another important issue. A scientist can engage in business in the field of science, but he does not have to handle a huge number of routines associated with the activity of the company: starting from patenting and ending with administration. This should involve special people who get paid for it. It is necessary to organize this environment. The task of a scientist is a very clear understanding of business needs, how it works at each stage and what kind of partners he needs.”

“But how a scientist can understand these needs, especially at an early stage?”

“In the world, university campuses organize representations of consulting firms, business incubators, and design offices. A scientist may go and negotiate with them possible cooperation, the division of shares, and then this is going to work as a complete system. Today, universities are beginning to rival in the quality of the environment provided. In other words, scientists are beginning to look not for the place where they are paid more, but a place with the best environment, where their development will be commercialised sooner. This is the model of a University 3.0, on which we are actively working in Russia. As part of NTI, we are doing a project of Universities 3.0 and hope that through the services, we remove the barrier of Russian scientists at the entrance to the enterprise; it is related to the fact that the business they are doing is not theirs. And when you are doing the wrong business, you will certainly do it worse than a specialist.”

“Does this mean that the strategy as a document by itself will not play a big role in changing the situation?”

“In any case, the document will not work on its own — people should work. I participated in the writing of the document and was in charge of a working group on the territorial organization of science. We have tried to reflect the importance of creating an ecosystem of services, the interaction of scientists at the regional level. Investors have the "rule of 20 miles": not invest in a company, if it is further than 20 miles, a half an hour away by car. Now, of course, the world is becoming global, but this factor is still important. This is the idea that we included in the strategy, and now it is necessary to work it out, to do specific programs and provide specific services.”

“You have mentioned a dialogue between science and business. How business can inform science on the needs, which are important for society?”

“There are many proven methods. First of all, modern business that does not want to die in competition, switches to the model, referred to as the "open innovation". Under this model, the company is not itself engaged in the development of new products and is looking for them on the market, among independent developers or start-ups. Recently, at the "Ecosystem of Innovations" Forum, the data has been given that the Japanese companies have lost twice in terms of capitalization in the last 19 years, precisely because they rely solely on their own development. European and American companies are moving to the development of the market, that is towards open innovations. They have been accepted by the pharmaceutical industry, for example. And it is much easier for an independent scientist to engage in the tools that use corporations in working with this model.”

“Give me an example, please?”

“Corporate accelerators, incubators, hackathon, or technological competitions. For example, a company announces that it is interested in certain technologies. In exchange for them, the corporation gives money, a landfill, equipment, certification, and testing equipment. There is a famous example, when Procter & Gamble wanted to make a printer that prints on food. At first, it decided to act traditionally: it requested the development to Hewlett-Packard, which has issued an enormous invoice. Then P & G decided to save money and have announced a competition, which was won by an Italian scientist, professor of engineering and part-time baker, the owner of his own bakery. For fun, he assembled a printer that prints on buns. As a result, this technology was transferred to P & G, and the professor has been receiving his royalties for this invention. That is how open innovations work.

In our GenerationS accelerator, we offer eight tracks, and each of them has a partner company. They work with start-ups, setting goals for them. Just finished a contest that we held with Saturn for specialized brackets for air engines. The corporation has set the task to assemble a 2 kg lighter bracket, and the winner made a spare part weight of slightly more than 300 grams. This was a qualitative leap. Therefore, the corporation should inform scientists about their needs.

There is another mechanism. Creation of corporate long-term strategies, forsytes, when the company tells what technologies they might need in 10-15 years. We work in this area, as well.”

“Do your words mean that the potential for development "from scratch" is gradually reducing, and scientists no longer need to invent anything radically new?”

“Not exactly. There are two flows: technology push and market pull. Market pull is what I was telling you about. Which means a company, for example, says: in 10 years from now, we will need to use drones only.

Accordingly, for this company developers offer computer vision technology. And there is technology push, when the scientist finds unexpected effect, begins to promote it as an idea, and it gradually causes a change in the market.”

“Can you give an example of such a shift?”

“The most striking and, I would say, a magnificent example of that is: in the course of work on completely theoretical biology, investigating the interaction of viruses and bacteria, we found a mechanism that allowed engaging in the editing of the genome, the well-known CRISPR / Cas9. It took 5-7 years, and now it is potentially the most expensive patent in the world, which affects almost all areas ranging from agriculture to medicine, it will change the market.

What shall a scientist do? Think about the possible practical application. Tell about the development of not only fellow scientists, but also about potential customers. Yes, it is necessary to expand the circle of contacts for that. Probably, it is a good idea when someone else tells about you. In the West, their post-graduate students and postdocs tell about professors. You need to express your ideas, to become engaged in a dialogue. And our job — as the creators of the infrastructure — is to create a site where it would be possible to carry out this dialogue.”

By Jana Khlyustova

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