New Tandem Industry Academia (TIA) funding recipients met at a reception hosted by the Finnish Research Impact Foundation on 19 September 2022. The event included an interesting panel discussion about what lessons have been learned from industry-academia cooperation so far.
There is no question that the world has become an increasingly complex place. One critical concern for businesses as well as for academic researchers is to overcome the challenges and implications of climate change, and answers are needed sooner rather than later. We can no longer afford to work in silos because there just isn’t enough time – a position shared by Postdoctoral Research Fellow Mattia Rossi, Professor Mikko Möttönen and Juha Nousiainen, head of the Climate Solutions programme at Valio.
“Valio has always been a technology-driven company. We’ve created solutions within the company, in an inside-out process. But the challenges of the modern world mean we are having to turn this around: we are now working more outside-in, with academic research closely involved in our development processes,” Nousiainen explains. Valio’s climate solutions team are currently working with the University of Helsinki to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairy production. Nousiainen insists that cooperation and outside-in thinking are essential, not just a chic addition to the company’s research efforts.
Mattia Rossi says that cooperation is also a motivating factor for the academic researcher because the value of research is measured by its practical applicability and impact. “When research is optimized according to the needs of industry, that at once serves to maximize its potential and benefits.” Upon completing his doctoral research Mattia Rossi specifically wanted to sign up with a project that involved a business partner. He’s now working at Tampere University to improve the efficiency of electricity consumption in a joint project with Danfoss Drives.
Mikko Möttönen, Professor of Quantum Technology at Aalto University, shares Mattia Rossi’s view that industry cooperation is pivotal to increasing the impact of research. But he is not sure whether we are moving fast enough. “Climate change is not going to wait for us. We have to act quickly if we want to leave a sustainable environment for our grandchildren.” Professor Möttönen is principal investigator in a joint project between Aalto University and Bluefors.
So what are the means that make for efficient cooperation? Professor Möttönen says it’s important to maintain a suitable level of realism – to accept that the very first research idea will not necessarily deliver, that it might be necessary to move the goalposts and adjust expectations along the way. He’s also keen to stress the role of project management and an active orientation. “Academic researchers and business professionals are busy people. Nothing will happen unless they find the time to get together and decide what they want to do.”
Rossi and Nousiainen both subscribe to the views of Professor Möttönen and stress the importance of internal team communication. It’s crucial that both partners engage with each other’s thinking. “There’s no reason not to make an effort to explain things in an easy-to-understand manner,” Rossi says. Nousiainen also highlights the role of internal communication within the company and the need to explain and justify the importance of collaboration upwards to the higher echelons. It’s not enough that research teams within the company are convinced of the necessity of academic cooperation, but the top management must also be persuaded that outside-in research and development is imperative.