In an ever-changing and dynamic landscape of research and development (R&D), the keys to success lie not only in internal capabilities but also in the ability to identify promising breakthroughs and innovations ahead of the competition. The methods used to scout for the next game-changing discoveries from academia can determine an organisation’s success or failure. As such, it’s essential for R&D teams to conduct the technology scouting process regularly so as not to miss out on fruitful partnerships and breakthrough innovations.

More often than not, however, R&D teams conduct their scouting process periodically, sticking to routine approaches and only doing so at specific times of the year after a company-wide review or corporate priorities. The reasons for doing so can vary. Amongst the most common ones are simply a lack of time and human resource, combined with budget restraints and a lack of awareness of new solutions for scouting with a more hands-off ‘market pull’ approach. It’s time that R&D teams look beyond their established networks and traditional sources of innovation and become more open to seek new opportunities more regularly and with the support of technology.

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What are the traditional methods of R&D scouting?

There can be good reasons for companies to rely on traditional methods of technology scouting. To date, they have delivered many great industry-academia partnerships getting science out of the lab and onto the market. The record development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is just one excellent example of this kind of collaboration in action. Even in an increasingly digital world, they remain steadfast and invaluable to R&D teams. But they do have limitations that can hinder exciting opportunities from being uncovered in a timely manner.

1. Attending conferences, workshops and networking events

Benefits: Face-to-face gatherings of any size stand as pillars in the landscape of traditional scouting. They provide academic researchers, scientists and R&D professionals with an open forum to share their ideas and research findings and highlight global challenges worthy of solving collaboratively.

Attending conferences and events exposes R&D teams to cutting-edge developments, whether they hear it from a keynote speaker on stage, over a coffee break, or a pre-booked one-to-one conversation with an expert. They provide a platform to engage with fellow researchers and foster an environment conducive to brainstorming, and an immediate opportunity to exchange contact information, organise a follow-up conversation and ask questions about expectations, requirements and use cases.

Limitations: Conferences are almost always focused on a specific theme. This perpetuates a selective focus amongst attendees and limits exposure to broader partnership opportunities. This could lead to R&D teams missing out on new avenues that fall outside of the event’s scope or subject area.

A lot of conferences have limited partnering platforms, leaving prospective collaborators at the mercy of the ‘networking lottery’ and the hopeful chance encounter with a future partner who has the keys to unlock a technical R&D challenge.

Travelling to events also requires a significant amount of investment for tickets, transportation, hotels, food and time. This often limits participation, especially of smaller, more budget-constrained R&D teams who need to estimate which events will result in the most amount of new opportunities for the much-needed return on investment. And as is becoming increasingly the case, travelling internationally for conferences is being reigned in due to its environmental impacts, particularly for climate and social justice-conscious research professionals.

2. Reviewing academic journals, publications and patent databases

Benefits: Academic journals and publications are rich repositories of in-depth knowledge and analyses. They offer a comprehensive understanding of specific subject matters and can help R&D teams find out the areas in need of further investigation or trials. They’re often easily accessible online, and peer-reviewed, which gives them credibility. Patent databases go a step further in listing research that the associated institute and technology transfer team have identified to have enough commercial value to protect. R&D scouting through these databases can reveal trends and emerging technologies, and also provide a useful window into analysing the patent portfolios of competitors. They are also invaluable in providing R&D teams with insight into innovations already patented as part of prior art searches for novel developments, helping to avoid potential infringement issues. 

Limitations: R&D teams can deploy a lot of time reading and analysing different publications and databases without a solid guarantee of finding relevant and actionable opportunities, particularly when not all academic research is conducted with an industrial application or output in mind. There’s also often a significant delay between a piece of research being finished and its eventual publication. As such, there’s a risk of finding information that’s already out of date. In today’s competitive and resource-constrained landscape, that’s a costly risk to take.

What’s more, even if a promising breakthrough is found, there’s no guarantee that the academic is 1) open to collaboration, 2) still working on the same project, and 3) has the backing of their institute to partner with industry. Finding contact details, reaching out, and securing a conversation with the lead researchers or tech transfer team behind a project or breakthrough can add significant time to an already time-intensive scouting channel.

3. Government and industry reports

Benefits: Government agencies and industry groups and associations frequently publish data-driven research landscape reports that contain valuable insights into the challenges, trends, and opportunities faced by a particular sector or target audience. R&D scouting teams can use these to highlight gaps in research, industry practices and policies, and identify opportunities for new technology development.

Limitations: Industry reports can often be a hit-and-miss in terms of applicability and commerciality. They need to be thoroughly verified for accuracy, quality and sample size representation to avoid making misguided and costly decisions. And they’re not often specific, in terms of identifying which research groups are producing the greatest and latest research, and which are actively open to industry partnerships. 

4. Leveraging existing academic partnerships

Benefits: Staying in contact and nurturing relationships with an existing network of peers and academic researchers can lead to unexpected and serendipitous discoveries. Sometimes a short email or a simple phone call can mark the beginning of a disruptive project. Regular interactions with existing contacts can not only spark new ideas but also offer early access to promising research. If the R&D team successfully completed a project together in the past, they already know the ins and outs of collaborating together, helping to set the right expectations, navigate pitfalls and accelerate time to market.

Limitations: If the network is large, it’s time-consuming and resource-heavy to reach out to everyone regularly to touch-base on recent developments. And if the network is small, there are obvious limitations within a global web of science. In addition, only reaching out to existing contacts significantly limits the diversity of perspectives and closes the doors to new, global opportunities others might have not even searched for.

What are the new digital methods of technology scouting for R&D?

The digitisation of R&D scouting is transforming the way academic breakthroughs and partners are discovered. The traditional methods of scouting are still invaluable, but when it comes to the top scouting solutions for R&D, there’s no denying digital solutions are changing the playing field when it comes to delivering new developments and open innovation programmes.

5. Open innovation platforms

Benefits: Open innovation platforms are often viewed as online crowdsourcing marketplaces for research collaborations. They can help R&D teams create an environment where internal and external expertise can seamlessly work together and offer fresh perspectives to solve specific problems.

Open innovation platforms help R&D teams diversify the pool of contributors and offer access to global talent, fostering cross-disciplinary collaboration. They’re a great help when it comes to efficiently locating teams with the right tools and skillsets, managing innovative ideas and channelling them into actionable steps.

Limitations: Opening up the research and innovation process to external knowledge exploration remains challenging for many organisations which need to balance the cost of implementing and running open innovation with the chances of swiftly delivering a tangible final product or solution to a problem.

Sharing ideas on open platforms also often raises intellectual property and confidentiality issues. It requires careful upfront consideration of ownership and usage rights. It is a tricky paradox to navigate, as open innovation implies a free flow of ideas, whereas IP rights prevent others from using them. This issue, if not resolved at the very start of the collaboration, can put projects at a standstill.

6. Online partnering platforms

Benefits: Online academia-industry partnering platforms help R&D teams overcome their biggest obstacles: limited time and human resource. They allow companies to send out a ‘market pull’ beacon of their current and most pressing R&D challenges and requirements, getting matched to the most promising research aligned to those priorities, and direct introductions to the people responsible for the research and its commercialisation. 

These technology scouting platforms make it easier to find and build connections that usually require massive amounts of engagement from both parties by using matchmaking algorithms that match potential collaborators based on their specific requirements, interests, technology readiness level, IP, types of opportunities, and much more.

The right research matchmaking platform can help uncover untapped opportunities from all corners of the world. This increases the chances of finding a partner who is on the same page in terms of key needs and deliverables, also uncovering hidden gems by surfacing research from locations around the world usually overlooked. These platforms can also facilitate the initial introduction in a trusted, secure and confidential manner.

Limitations: Research matchmaking platforms require an initial investment of time to build an interest profile before results are generated. In addition, make sure the benefits of a higher volume of potential opportunities are utilised, they require a workflow integrating the results into an internal triage system, which might prevent smaller R&D teams from trialling them. Some platforms might only offer matchmaking with a regional network of academic institutions, leading to teams missing out on global calls for collaboration.

Online academia-industry partnering platforms help R&D teams overcome their biggest obstacles: limited time and human resource, and can help uncover opportunities from all corners of the world. Inpart’s free online partnering platform Connect is used by more than 250 universities and research institutes and over 6,000 companies globally. 

If you’d like to streamline your technology scouting process and embrace one of the new top scouting solutions for R&D to remain at the forefront of innovation, join our free online partnering platform today.

Header image credit – Adobe Stock / Paweł Michałowski