Workshop Addresses the Gap Between Research and Commercialization

“Innovation and Entrepreneurship” was the theme of a workshop organized by the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), to bring together different stakeholders to discuss the major challenges and opportunities in paving the way for technology commercialization. The event was held on June 20, 2013, at the Pavilhão do Conhecimento, in Lisbon, Portugal.

The workshop featured researchers, entrepreneurs and experts on taking new ideas to market and Intellectual Property (IP) management. The participants shared their stories of startups created in an academic context, provided an overview of the commercialization process, highlighted the role of different commercialization support initiatives in Portugal and at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), and discussed the life cycle of IP. The workshop was strongly grounded on the hands-on experience of the participants and the discussion included the presentation of multiple practical examples.

The national director of the CMU Portugal Program, João Claro, opened the half-day workshop reinforcing the role and the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship for Phase II of the partnership. “We have outcomes from research projects carried out in Phase I that are now ready for commercialization. Therefore, this workshop comes in good time,” he said, stressing the importance of fostering the collaboration between CMU, Portuguese research institutions and industry, also for technology commercialization. According to the national director, "there is a strong gap between these two stages [research and commercialization], and the entrepreneurial culture in academia needs to be strengthened."

The welcome session was followed by a “Product Idea” Pitch Coaching Session, where three Portuguese researchers presented their ideas for new products, and had the opportunity to interact with the participants. Rui José, faculty member and researcher at the Universidade do Minho, pitched “displr.com”, a “social network for interactive place-based screen media that brings together display owners, page visitors, brands and content creators into open collaborative models.” The service aims at reshaping the role and experience of digital display users in the public sphere, by turning them into a rich communication medium that everyone can use.

Carlos Figueiredo, a 4th year Ph.D. student at the Faculdade de Engenharia of the Universidade do Porto, within the UT Austin Portugal Program, presented a proposal for an emergent technology that provides users with the ability to escape their “bubbles” of online information by designing information flows based on Social Network data. This is centered on a new paradigm to define central nodes that determine the access to resources. “Content tailored by whom surprises you,” is his proposal for search and recommendation outside the social bubble.

Nuno Pereira, a researcher at the Research Centre in Real-Time and Embedded Computing Systems (CISTER/INESC TEC, ISEP), introduced “DC Microscope”, an Integrated Datacenter Management Toolset. “DC Microscope” is a monitoring and management system that deals with the computational and physical aspects of a datacenter, for energy-efficient operation. The participants addressed several questions to each researcher, and provided inputs on parts of the concepts and the presentations that could be enriched, related to the description of the products or services, their positioning relative to competition, and future sustainability.

Panel: Inspiring the Future

In the first panel, titled “Multiple Paths to Technology Commercialization,” researchers who became entrepreneurs presented startups at different stages, and with different pathways of development, revealing how the participation in support initiatives, entrepreneurship competitions, and the access to venture capital and investors helped them move toward the market. Reed McManigle, an invited speaker from CMU, focused his presentation on the different components of an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and gave examples of several initiatives organized by CMU to promote an entrepreneurial environment.

Susana Sargento, faculty member of the Universidade de Aveiro and researcher at the Instituto de Telecomunicações (IT), is the co-founder and VP for Engineering of the spin-off Veniam‘Works. The startup was created in the scope of the CMU Portugal Program, and recently won the 2013 Building Global Innovators (BGI) Competition, which according to Susana Sargento was “an amazing experience.” During their participation in the BGI Competition, organized by the ISCTE and the MIT Portugal Program, the Veniam’Works team worked intensively on their business plan, and even changed its main structure. Susana Sargento and João Barros, faculty member of the Universidade do Porto (U.Porto), researcher at IT and national director of the CMU Portugal Program between 2009 and 2012, created the startup in 2012. Veniam’Works provides a seamless low-cost vehicle-based Internet infrastructure. This innovative system, created in the scope of DRIVE-IN, a research project supported by the CMU Portugal Program, is being tested on a taxi fleet in Porto, Portugal, and on a truck fleet at the Port of Leixões, also in Porto.

The co-founder and CTO of Feedzai, Paulo Marques, described how it is possible to “Uncover and Manage Anomalies” with the products of the first startup launched as part of the CMU Portugal Program. Feedzai specializes in processing large volumes of data with low-latency to produce actionable information in real-time, and currently serves clients all over the world. This was one of the main challenges emphasized by Paulo Marques, who was faculty member at the Universidade de Coimbra (UC), and for two years coordinated the dual degree Professional Masters in Software Engineering, taught by the UC and CMU, within the CMU Portugal Program. Paulo Marques explained that it is very important to stay focused when “we have clients in different parts of the world with completely singular needs,” to pay maximum attention to the work done by the competition, and to be prepared to face unexpected difficulties when everything seems to be going well. Feedzai won the BES Inovação Award in 2012, an initiative that, according to Paulo Marques, is very beneficial for startups.

Reed McManigle, senior manager at CTTEC (CMU’s Technology Transfer Office), started his presentation stressing that “CMU is good at promoting entrepreneurship,” and introducing some of the best practices put in place at the university. Culture and incentives, entrepreneurship education, mentors and informal training, advisor networks, and capital and management are all important elements to consider in an entrepreneurship ecosystem. Reed McManigle stressed that networking and interacting, whether formally or informally, is in general very important to the entrepreneurial process. The characteristics of a CEO, the steps to find funding and/or partnerships, or even the incubation stages were all topics addressed by Reed McManigle. He concluded his presentation by showing examples of CMU spinoffs that received different types and levels of assistance.

Advanced Cyclone Systems (ACSystems), a startup created in 2008, was presented by Martha Watson, the company’s business development director. Martha Watson explained the technology, the products and the business model of the spin-off, as well as its development path. ACSystems commercializes an innovative technology called ReCyclone, which was developed and patented internationally by Romualdo Salcedo, faculty member and researcher of the Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto. The researcher was challenged by Pedro Ribas Araújo, the company’s CEO since its creation, to participate in the COHiTEC Program, a technology commercialization initiative organized by COTEC Portugal that aims at supporting the economic valorization of the knowledge produced in national R&D institutions. At the end of its participation in COHiTEC, ACSystems became a startup. Martha Watson explained not only the importance of being focused on the company’s goals, but also of having representatives all over the world who are well prepared to commercialize the technology.

Hugo Gamboa presented PLUX – Wireless Biosignals, of which he is a founder and CEO. Established in 2007, this company creates innovative products for physical therapists and researchers, and develops an advanced biosignal-monitoring platform that integrates wearable body sensors, such as electromyography (EMG), electrocardiography (EKG) and respiration sensors, as well as accelerometers, combined with wireless connectivity and software applications. As the CEO of PLUX, he has been awarded with the Biggest Innovation at Hit Barcelona International Innovation Summit (2010) and was the winner of the ISCTE-IUL MIT Portugal Entrepreneurship Competition in the Life Sciences track in 2010. Hugo Gamboa, who is also faculty member of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, explained that at this stage PLUX is seeking additional investment for marketing, sales and distribution, as well as investors who are experienced in exit.

Roundtable: The Life of IP

In this roundtable, José Maria Maurício, member of the Directive Council of the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI), started by contextualizing the Portuguese scenario in terms of patents. “Between 2007 and 2012, there was a significant increase in the number of patent applications (118 per cent). Therefore, we can conclude that Portugal has been improving at this level,” he stated. The number of national patents granted in 2012 was 235, a 7.3 percent increase over the previous year. The applications for national patents are mainly submitted by Portuguese institutions (86 percent), 19 percent of which are universities. According to José Maria Maurício, universities “are doing a good work” in this area. Still, 32 per cent of national patent applications were submitted by companies, 47 percent by individual inventors and only 2 percent by research institutions.

Among the universities, in 2012, the Universidade do Porto was the highest ranked, having submitted 18 patent applications, two more than the Universidade de Coimbra, which is followed by the Instituto Superior Técnico of the Universidade Técnica de Lisboa, with six patent applications.

In spite of these positive figures, there is still room for improvement. “Comparatively to other countries at the same level, these figures are still low. There is still some way to go for universities,” he concluded, stressing that there is a gap between universities and enterprises and it is necessary to raise awareness to the importance of IP and its management.

Maria Oliveira, director of the Universidade do Porto Innovation (UPIN), the Universidade do Porto’s Technology Transfer Office, presented the work done at UPIN, since its creation in 2004. UPIN promotes knowledge and technology transfer and the strengthening of the connections between the University and industry, and is responsible for tasks such as IP protection, market analysis or commercialization and negotiation for approximately 60 R&D units. Patenting dilemmas - such as software vs computer implemented inventions, appropriation vs public disclosure, speed of development vs granting time, costs and infringement, and asset value to raise money for startups - represent important challenges for UPIN. Maria Oliveira also described two experiences with CMU on this matter. The teams of inventors for both patents include at least one researcher from the Universidade do Porto, one from Carnegie Mellon University and one with double affiliation. The division of the ownership between the Universidade do Porto and Carnegie Mellon University is 55/45 in one case and 66.6/33.3 percent in the other. One of the patents is already currently licensed to Veniam’Works.

Reed McManigle plays an active role at CTTEC in licensing inventions, forming research collaborations with industry, and establishing startup companies, focused his communication on joint IP processes between CMU and Portuguese universities. He presented the stages of the process followed by CMU, from research to income distribution, covering invention, disclosure, evaluation, patenting and licensing.

Luís Joaquim, from Critical Software, concluded the session with a presentation of the company’s perspectives on IP management and the joint work done with R&D institutions.

July 2013