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26 May, 2021 - 11:41 By Tony Quested

Cambridge plays key role in global tech transfer drive

Cambridge Enterprise is spearheading an unprecedented technology transfer initiative with other global universities designed to turn more academic inventions into commercial successes.

The first TenU Future Leaders programme will be held this autumn, according to TenU lead Ananay Aguilar, and generous financial support has been secured to this end from UKRI Research England.

US giants MIT, Stanford and Columbia have pledged support for the venture alongside Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College London, Edinburgh, Leuven (Belgium), Manchester and University College London. 

TenU was formed to share effective practices in research commercialisation with the UK and US governments as well as higher education communities with an end objective of furthering the societal impact of research. 

As it has developed through a series of engagements, TenU has caught the imagination of influential US and UK policymakers, thought leaders and top practitioners.

The upcoming pilot TenU Future Leaders Programme being rolled out across the US and UK is just one tentacle; TenU also offers the event series ‘TenU Hosts’, now preparing for its fourth iteration ‘TenU Hosts Regional Opportunities’. In addition, TenU seeks to publish thought-leader pieces on key topics.

Dr Aguilar hopes the pilot venture will gain traction in the remainder of this year and throughout 2022. 

The long-term aim is to broaden the programme beyond a transatlantic play and bring tech transfer offices from other parts of the academic world into the magic circle.

Dr Aguilar joined Cambridge Enterprise in June 2020 to put flesh on the bones of the initial concept and the UK contingent were swift to pledge support – providing the platform to extend engagement across the Pond.

Scores of brilliant ideas emerge from within universities on a regular basis and it is important to provide the training of future leaders to ensure sustainability and further growth. 

“The Future Leaders Programme is designed to train mid-level tech transfer professionals in effective international practices in terms of commercialising ideas – and to spread those practices,” says Dr Aguilar.

A lot of work TenU is already doing is around areas such as policy – specifically research, IP and investment – and these issues vary from territory to territory. What applies to the US marketplace may vary from the tech transfer regimes in the UK and Europe, but by working together we can learn from each other to build a better future, Dr Aguilar says.

With such big-hitting players in their number, TenU will be viewed by governments in the UK and elsewhere as stimulators of economic growth through technology transfer.

This was very much in the thoughts of Cambridge Enterprise Chief Executive Dr Tony Raven – who retires from the role this year – when he picked up the baton to secure the initial funding. 

His initiative was rewarded by Cambridge Enterprise being asked to lead the initial and crucial development of the TenU project. Dr Aguilar was brought in to make it flesh.

She certainly knows the score having previously been an independent consultant in the international music industry. Dr Aguilar had to deal with various copyright issues and has enjoyed the additional insight gained into patents and other forms of intellectual property that TenU members bring to their academic spinouts, regardless of the core area of research and technology.

“It is challenging for any entrepreneur to take their know-how and initial innovation into a product that stands a chance of commercial success,” she says. “They cannot be expected to set out knowing what protection they need for their invention in such varied territories as the US, Europe, Japan and other countries.

“For all the technology transfer offices that are members of TenU, this inherent knowledge of commercial exploitation and the exact protection required for a specific invention is the very reason for their existence. 
“This is what they do and their knowledge and experience help to create ecosystems that enable academic innovation to thrive.

“What works in one country may not work in another; TenU members can share effective practices that have been proved to be successful down the years in the various global territories.

“The Future Leaders Programme is just the start: The reach of initiatives will spread and evolve. We are all determined to combine our knowledge and resources to see how we can better help academic inventions commercialise even more technologies than currently.”

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