Commercialisation Fellow Spotlight - Emily Corrigan-Kavanagh
This year we thought it would be interesting to hear some early first-hand insights into the IAA Commercialisation Fellowship programme and the relationship between Research and Innovation, directly from the Fellows themselves. Today we'll hear from Emily, a Research Fellow in Design Research (CVSSP).
Calling Surrey ECRs!
We are OPEN to receive expressions of interest and applications from ECRs based in all faculties for the new 2022 Cohort! Email your questions, interest, and applications to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Are you one of our Surrey ECRs?
- Are you becoming interested in innovation?
- Are you interested in what the Commercialisation Fellowship can offer you and how it could boost your outputs?
... and now let's hear from Emily.
Tell us about yourself, why you applied for this fellowship, and what you expect to gain
I want this fellowship to provide me with dedicated time to learn how to maximise research impact through knowledge exchange activities with industry partners and to realise new innovations from research for societal and economic impact. I am also excited to have the opportunity to learn how to do this in real-time by working on on-going projects within the Innovation Strategy team to develop solutions around how the university can facilitate collaborations with businesses, commercialisation of intellectual property and increase entrepreneurial activities within the research community.
My application for this commercialisation fellowship is timely as I am currently working on the “AI for Sound” EPSRC funded project, led by Prof Mark Plumbley, which aims to create new AI for sound sensing technologies to improve the sounds people hear around them in a variety of contexts such as the home, town and city environments, and workplaces. This involves engaging with a variety of stakeholders, including SMEs and local authorities, to collaborate on and realise emerging research outcomes for commercialisation to ensure maximum societal and economic benefit.
How would you define ‘innovation’, how does it fit within an academic environment, and how is it relevant?
I see innovation as the realisation of a new concept, approach, or process within an established discipline that:
- Has a genuine benefit to society without negatively impacting the planet
- Is effectively situated and informed by the current capabilities of related businesses, government organisations and institutions
- Can be scaled-up and embedded within existing social and economic work streams
Innovation is essential within an academic environment as research that is sensitive to everyday social and economic practices will naturally be more accessible, relevant, and successful in its implementation beyond the university to benefit society.
What do you think are the biggest barriers to innovation for researchers at Surrey, in particular within your Dpt or Faculty, and how do you suggest we address these?
- Not knowing how to engage with or include input from businesses in research
- Researching in a bubble without consulting related companies about their work practices and general business goals, needs and challenges
- Not having time to reach out to companies or to conduct market research due to pressures to publish and bring in more research funding
Suggestions for addressing these
- Providing clear information on how to engage with business and include them appropriate in research—many engagements with businesses never go pass a writing a letter for support for a funding application and this is what most researchers will default to
- Create incentives for making research commercially viable. Currently the overall gain to one’s academic career is not obvious and making time to reach out to companies is seen more as a hindrance
- Give researchers dedicated time to explore the commercialisation opportunities of their research and support them in conducting the appropriate market research
What are you plans over the next 12-18 months and how might this fellowship support those plans?
- Contact and interview several AI companies in Surrey and the surrounding area to understand their unique business challenges and how the new AI Institute can work with them
- Compile results and use these to inform an overall strategy for the AI Institute to engage with
- Create a report documenting insights from each company with suggested guidelines for approaching
- Use these insights to assemble a survey to advance findings further
- Identify AI companies that might like to collaborate on the “AI for Sound” project
- Give talk at a January event “Building Surrey as a national hotspot for AI” in the Surrey Research Park exploring the use of AI in local businesses
How has the start of your fellowship begun? Who have you met, what projects are you involved with, and what things have you already learned? – was anything unexpected? Did reality meet your expectations?
My activities on the fellowship so far have included:
- Attending a couple of meetings with the Innovation Strategy team: (1) to hear about each team member’s role and (2) to understand how the Technology Transfer Office works to commercialise research outcomes—for example, I now know the process for submitting an Invention Disclosure Form (IDF) to the Technology Transfer Office team.
- Beginning work on the project “Mapping the local AI Industry” with Dr Andrew Rogoyski, industry partnership manager in AI, Cyber, 5/6G & Automotive such as: interviewing representatives from local AI companies to explore their unique business challenges and how the new AI Institute can best collaborate with them; and compiling a comprehensive list of local AI industry including their sought-after skills, specialisms, and interest in working with the university
- Completing online courses relating to patent applications
In terms of unexpected learnings, it was interesting to find out that the commercial value of research is gone, such as it can no longer be patented, when it has been published at a conference or in a journal. Given the pressure on academics to publish, it seems that there is a significant disparity between the workflow process for commercialisation and that of academics. Additionally, academics tend not to be mainly driven by monetary gain and even if commercialisation means that more people within society get to benefit from research outcomes, the commercial value of research is generally not taken into account when results are being finalised for publication.
If so, how has the fellowship changed your approach to innovation? What are your expectations for the rest of the fellowship e.g. things you’re looking forward to?
The fellowship hasn’t changed my approach to innovation given my background in user-centred design where I naturally try to consult all relevant stakeholders when creating new design concepts from my research. Although I am now certainly more aware of the importance of filing an IDF (Invention Disclosure Form) before publishing research with commercial potential now to ensure that IP is protected and can be monopolised to produce licences or a spin-out business.
I am looking forward to meeting a lot more AI companies to explore their unique business challenges as well as how we as a university can best respond to tackle those issues with them.
I am especially interested in exploring new guidelines and frameworks for engaging with businesses through the university to ensure that research conducted has the greatest positive societal impact.
What would you say to a prospective ECR considering applying to the fellowship?
It will provide you with a great insight into how the commercialisation of research works, who to talk to, why commercialisation is important and why you should care. It will also give you some much needed dedicated time to explore and get involved in a range of projects that could link with your own research interests and goals, allowing you to produce future commercialisation ideas.
Before your Fellowship, what was your practical understanding and application of impact, knowledge exchange and commercialisation activities?
Before your Fellowship, what was your understanding of IP?
Before your Fellowship, what was your awareness for the relevance of innovation to the academic career?
Before your Fellowship, how confident were you to approach industry with a commercial opportunity and to manage that relationship?
Before your Fellowship, what was your awareness of the Innovation Strategy teams and their functions?
Overall, how do you feel about Innovation now?
Dr Andrew RogoyskiDirector of Innovation and Partnerships at the Surrey Institute for People-Centred AI