July 17, 2024

Knowledge valorisation is creation of economic value for modern research | Image Credit: Pixabay
In January 1996, Google began as a research project by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two PhD students at Stanford University in California. The formidable rise of Google and its transformation into a trillion dollar company has often begun with the description of how it started as a research project.
Nearly three decades since Google began, it is rare to find similar success for a project that originated at a university. The emergence of technology as a solution for every problem has forced universities around the world to not only look at building tech startups but also act on it.
There are now a number of initiatives aimed at turning student ideas into successful startups and it all begins with valorisation. Valorisation can be described as the creation of economic value for modern research with a strong link to technological development.
At the heart of this focus on valorisation is the challenge associated with entrepreneurs unable to turn their bright ideas into successful startups. On September 30, ACE Incubator is hosting an event at Amsterdam’s Startup Village to help entrepreneurial academics to launch their AI-based startups.
ACE AI Lab, formerly called AI Startup Lab, does this by connecting them with corporate partners and offering them access to real-life use cases. However, the ideas from students and academics are not effectively converted into startups.

“Students and academics have an enormous amount of knowledge and skills, only this is not yet sufficiently converted into startups or they don’t get the right support in developing their innovative solutions,” says Joel Dori, Startup Liaison at Startup Amsterdam. “This is the gap we need to fill, because there are a lot of good ideas and products in this group that cannot reach their full potential.”
Dori says the career path of founding a startup or even working for one is underexplored and riddled with obstacles. He also sees challenges associated with valorisation curtailing the progress.
“In terms of valorisation, the Dutch knowledge institutions still lag behind the top international institutions. By further encouraging this together, future startup founders or employees can help us create innovative solutions to societal challenges,” Dori explains
One of the things immediately clear while speaking to students and academics is the need for valorisation as a strategy. Maxime ten Brinke, co-founder of Hotelshousing and Communications Manager at ACE (Amsterdam Centre for Entrepreneurship, says the definition of valorisation has not changed but its importance has in the past few years.
“As the university business incubator in Amsterdam, ACE has been part of the Amsterdam-based knowledge institutions for over 9 years and the importance of knowledge valorisation across all institutions has increased significantly during that time,” she adds.
She adds that ACE is focussing on bringing academic knowledge to the market and do it in a way that the society would benefit. In order to drive innovation in the society, ACE sees a need for bringing academic knowledge out of the labs or enabling knowledge valorisation.
Giulia Donker, Business Developer at UvA for TTT-AI, says universities have already started spending more money on valorisation of offices. “Universities have started to realise that valorisation can be more diverse than just licence deals,” she says.
The biggest challenge, as Dori mentioned earlier, is the roadblocks in the career path of a student entrepreneur looking to turn their idea into a startup. Maxime, however, sees this as an academic entrepreneurial ecosystem problem which is centred towards “commercialisation of academic research papers appealing to academics.”
“The institutions need to facilitate the commercialisation process both in terms of financial support as in time available for it,” adds Maxime.
In broad terms, valorisation is akin to business activity and Giulia finds its implementation to be a challenge within a slow paced organisation. “When you valorise by setting up a startup around innovation, the startup needs quick money, quick responses, fast decision making, etc. and it can be difficult in an university like environment,” she adds.
However, none of these challenges have dithered organisations in Amsterdam to spearhead knowledge valorisation at various levels. StartupAmsterdam has set up ACE AI Lab that helps AI students to work directly on a challenge from the municipality or other large organisation. Once these students develop a solution, they are supported by turning the idea into an actual startup.
The City of Amsterdam is also partnering the IXA Next programme to actively support students and academics set up companies. Dori says, “In my role of Startup Liaison I will keep working on strengthening the valorisation ecosystem and I’m interested in hearing the challenges startups face.”
Maxime also sees IXA (Innovation Exchange Amsterdam) as a key player in the knowledge valorisation process across all campuses. The IXA helps researchers commercialise their ideas.
“A good example of this is Demonstrator Lab at VU and UvA: failure-friendly lab spaces for students and researchers that are building innovative solutions. Initiatives that we collaborate closely with at ACE,” Maxime explains.
Another emerging player in the field of knowledge valorisation is the Thematic Technology Transfer Artificial Intelligence (TTT-AI). Established as a collaborative alliance between the Knowledge Transfer Offices (KTOs) of eight universities and medical centres, national research institute CWI and LUMO Labs, it tries to speed up the startup process.
In order to bring entrepreneurial mentality to campus, VU has created a pavilion in its campus called the StartHub. With focus on research, StartHub aims to be a place for smart people to build business ideas, exchange experiences, and network.
Amsterdam has become one of the leading hubs for development of AI technologies and it is thus imperative for the Dutch capital to focus on knowledge valorisation in the field of AI. Vladimir Nedovic, co-lead of the ACE AI Lab, finds it difficult since the gap between academic science and market readiness is larger than in some other disciplines.
Nedovic adds, “This often leads to a mismatch between expectations and possibilities. In addition, access to data remains an issue, and that does not apply to publicly available datasets but data that can be a differentiating factor and provide an edge for the startup.”
He sees a need for students and academics to be aware of this gap before they operate in the commercial market. Since Amsterdam is a relatively small place, he says people get to know others and expand their network quickly. At ACE AI Lab, Vladimir Nedovic says they are helping academics and scientists to think in terms of market needs and connecting them with AI entrepreneurs to help build a beta version of their startup in 12 weeks.
Giulia Donker also sees the lack of entrepreneurial mindset or desire holding back students and academics from building potential future startups. “As a business developer focussing on AI, I don’t think that getting funding for innovative ideas that can become startups is a very big issue. Maybe the biggest problem is the overwhelming amount of different funding opportunities they can make use of,” she notes.
Knowledge valorisation is a major challenge in the Dutch knowledge ecosystem but there are already signs of progress in lowering its impact. From universities setting up valorisation offices to campus building their own startup hubs, there is clear progress. However, the likes of ACE AI Lab and TTT-AI could become the beacon in eliminating this challenge completely.
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