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UZH Innovation Hub

Nextcasts – From lab to market: Unlocking Innovation at Universities

The Deputy Head Innovation Office at the University of Zurich, Eva Maria Håkanson talks on the Swissnex San Francisco Podcast about moving ideas from the university to market.

Picture: Emilia Pasquier, Darren Cooke and Eva Maria Håkanson

Picture: Emilia Pasquier, Darren Cooke and Eva Maria Håkanson

In her role as Deputy Head Innovation, Eva Maria Håkanson spent four months in the vibrating city of San Francisco to connect with universities in the Bay Area, learn from her peers and gain inspiration for the her work with the UZH Innovation Hub. She was hosted as a sabbatical visitor by Swissnex San Francisco

For anyone who is interested in innovation, it is a thrill to visit the innovation ecosystem around the Bay Area in California, including the startup hotspot of Silicon Valley. While it soon became clear for Eva Maria, that culture is at the heart of the region’s success, she was also gaining very practical experience in her work in Zurich. In the latest episode of the Nextcast podcast, she spoke with Emilia Pasquier, CEO Swissnex San Francisco and Darren Cooke, Executive Director Life Science Entrepreneurship Center at the University of California, Berkeley, about moving ideas from the university to market.

Darren Cooke and Eva Maria Håkanson

In the conversation they touch upon why and how universities support the translation from science to the market. Both, Eva Maria and Darren, declare the «why» as a duty to give back to society:
«There are so many problems in our societies and at the same time the universities sit on a wealth of knowhow and talents,» Eva Maria points out and concretizes «but many of the ideas at the universities are not in a form or stage of development that they can be used by external actors, this is where our work become relevant». Darren confirms: «Exactly, the mission of the universities, next to research and teaching, is to do public benefit, we see it as our role to create the bridge between the two worlds». 

So which are the different ways, that we can support researchers to translate ideas? In addition to providing funding, Eva Maria is also concerned with giving researchers the opportunity to acquire the skills needed to turn an idea into a product, making information relevant for science entrepreneur easily accessible and being a point of contact for questions – «We work a lot with role models to show that entrepreneurship can be a good way to build value on a research finding as well as an interesting career route for researchers».

A key topic in the conversation is the importance of truly understanding the market before building a project. Since several years, Darren Cooke has been running a market need finding course for Life Sciences and he explains, how the methods and mindset to understand the problem and market need first are teachable to anyone. In the course, called the innovation-corps (i-corps), early career researchers and professors apply a scientific method to find out about market needs and create a business model: «It starts with a hypothesis about certain stakeholders or ecosystem and then verifying those in experiments,» Darren makes an important point saying, «we always expect some of the hypotheses to be wrong. If not, the participants are not doing it right. It’s from that wrong that the learning journey starts». 

Listen to the full conversation on Spotify

Impact for the UZH Innovation Hub
During her visit in the Bay Area, Eva Maria was able to follow one of the courses offered by Darren Cooke. Now that she's back in Europe she plans to use certain aspects of it and build it into the work at the University of Zurich. The insights from the exchange with her peers at the University of California endorsed existing activities at UZH Innovation Hub. Already today, there are elements that makes researchers think about market needs built into many of the courses and programs in the form of keynotes, roundtable discussion and coaching sessions with experienced entrepreneurs.  

As a take-out, she is currently working with coaches from the UZH Innovation Hub to draft a more structured approach to the market need finding, which also involves working with groups of researchers to achieve both peer-pressure and peer-learning opportunities.