Academic Spin-Off Companies: A Tool for Successful Commercialisation of Science and Research

On December 19th 2022 a joint publication of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies and TOPAZ think-tank has been published under the title Shaping EU Presidency Priorities: National Challenges in a European ContextA Path Forward Under New Political Realities. The publication was prepared in mid-2022 on the occasion of Czechia taking over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. It’s unable to assess how Czechia has scored in this demanding role, however, the publication reflects various aspects and issues linked to the Czech Presidency priorities, both on international and European levels.

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One of those addressing the current pressing issues was Otomar Sláma, the board president of Charles University Innovations Prague a.s., a subsidiary of Charles University. He elaborated on the opportunities and current pitfalls of academic spin-off companies.

Other co-authors contributed on topics ranging from Europe’s security architecture, climate policy, culture wars, electoral reforms or health care reforms. You can read the whole publication on the Wilfried Martens Centre’s website here.

Otomar Sláma’s text discusses the necessary steps to support academic spin-offs, an important tool for universities to contribute to local development. Compared to how great the potential is, it is a relatively infrequently used instrument. It has been included among the priorities of the Czech Ministry of Science, Research and Innovation. To make that happen, it is necessary not only to formally fulfill the goals defined in the Innovation Strategy of the Czech Republic 2019-2030. The focus must be on a real increase on Czechia’s innovativeness.

“We should not use the term academic spin-off for any type of cooperation between universities and business even if they do. Having no ownership link to the parent institutions (including the academia) creates room for a non-transparent environment,”

explains Sláma and recommends clear definition of a spin-off company.

An academic spin-off company should emerge when academia is not able to develop a service or product because it is no longer an “academic problem”. Then the appropriate approach is to join forces with commercial partners who already have the experience and resources to prepare scale-up, packaging, manuals, warehouses, distribution network, marketing and product launch.

“The status of an academic spin-off company allows the company to present the credibility of a public university or public research institution for marketing purposes, which provides a substantial competitive advantage on the market. If an academic institution has a stake in the company, this is legitimate. If not, it is debatable how to assess the use of the university brand,”

describes Sláma the most obvious example of how unclear terminology potentially allows misuse of the term.

He then adds more advantages to be taken from the spin-off status – preferential access to more know-how, use of the premises, equipment and human resources paid for by public funds and, of course, sharing profits.

Otomar Sláma argues, that knowledge and technology transfer potential carries the promise that Czechia can join the most inovative countries in Europe and Czech example could inspire other former socialist countries. One of the important, recognised and, above all, effective, tools to achieve this goal is the establishment of academic spin-off companies. It must be done quickly, properly and with maximum transparency. Only then Czechia will meet its declared objectives.

Apart from important insight into the influence of terminology, and business advantages to be explained to scientists as well as businesses, Otomar Sláma also recommends focusing on quality measuring spin-offs’ economic performance in the first 2-5 years after establishment.

Read the complete article in the publication here.

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