Small businesses benefit greatly from open research collaboration
At the Spoman Open Science Festival on 16 May, businesses, students and researchers gathered to celebrate – and share – their joint projects. In just a short time, Open Science has proven to be of great value.
“The advantage of Open Science is that the barrier is low. We can test ideas through a process where the right knowledge is added, and the risk is very small."
These words are spoken by Bjarke Jørgensen, research director at Newtec Engineering A/S, a company on Funen which develops weighing, packaging and sorting machines, particularly for the food industry. He attended the festival in his capacity as partner in several basic research projects linked to the Spoman Open Science platform.
Open Science is a new type of industrial collaboration that combines industrial innovation and basic research. Researchers from different academic fields collaborate with businesses to use basic research to address the challenges faced by these businesses.
Especially SMEs benefit greatly from the informal collaboration resulting from open collaborative platforms, and trust between universities and businesses is enhanced through open, interdisciplinary development partnerships.
Resources play an important role in this context. Embarking on research collaboration can be a tall order for businesses, for example if this involves applying for funding and entering into confidentiality contracts. Collaboration can be time-consuming and resource-intensive for all parties involved, and for SMEs in particular, embarking on such projects may seem almost insurmountable.
Small crumbs of knowledge
Open Science also brings two other major advantages: Openness and the possibility of receiving many different types of input on a given problem.
"Open Science has great value for us, because it strengthens the knowledge flow in our company. When we’re faced with a problem, we can throw a question on the table, and everyone can chip in with their knowledge. Openness is very important, because specialist knowledge is shared. Researchers and students alike contribute small crumbs of knowledge, and together, this knowledge becomes a valuable resource for us," says Bjarke Jørgensen.
For example, Newtec Engineering A/S has drawn on knowledge from microbiologists, physicists and surface chemists, who are all contributing to the same process. This is only possible if everyone has the same access to the knowledge generated and developed.
Students make all the difference
In Open Science, students are linked to development projects in collaboration with businesses, and they are allowed to contribute basic research.
"It gives us more insight into what basic research can be used for, and we learn to direct our research towards applications that create value for companies," says Jonas Greibe Hansen, MSc student in chemistry.
His fellow student Maiken Berglund Davidsen adds:
“Our knowledge is put into perspective, and we get a chance to meet and talk to businesses that may offer future career opportunities. Knowing that my academic skills actually fit into ‘reality’ is very reassuring.”
The career perspective is important, according to Jens Vinge Nygaard, associate professor at the Department of Engineering:
"In addition to its specific impact on industry, Open Science can be a catalyst for establishing relationships between students and businesses," he says. "The students bring new blood to the generation of ideas, and when their ideas are tested and prove to create actual value for the companies, the path to a future career is much shorter."
Spoman is an Open Science platform at Aarhus University focusing on smart polymers and nanocomposites. Right now, researchers and students from chemistry, physics, engineering and iNano are linked to the platform, but the ambition is to include life science as well. The project receives funding from the Danish Industry Foundation.
Open Science is a supplement to traditional, 'closed' research collaboration with industry. The idea is to take the broadest possible approach to problem solving.
Open Science projects are basic research projects aimed at generating knowledge. The projects take place at the early stages of a development process before they come into conflict with the collaborating companies’ need for confidentiality in relation to development processes. Companies can test ideas and opportunities before they decide to invest in larger scale development. Read more about Open Science at iNano.