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Governments of emerging economies are recognising the need to move away from a reliance on finite natural resources and move towards a knowledge-based economy. A key strategic necessity in this repositioning process is to build the country’s research capabilities and then to develop capacity and capability in the commercialisation of that research. 

Fortunately, many of those countries benefit from innovative, enthusiastic and committed researchers who are keen to create impact through the application of their ideas to real world problems. This means that the raw materials exist to develop a successful commercialisation ecosystem. However, in spite of the presence of great ideas and plenty of enthusiasm, there is still much to be done in order to achieve significant global impact. 

Challenges to be addressed include the need for mindset change in both the research community and the management of universities and research institutions, the lack of hands-on experience of commercialising technology, and the lack of accessible and experienced business mentors. 

Over the last five years Cambridge Enterprise has supported numerous universities, research groups and innovation agencies in their quest to build effective environments for the commercialisation of science and technology. A fundamental feature of all of these projects has been the creation of long term collaborative partnerships, comprising phased modules of activity over months and, in some cases, years. 

In Colombia particularly Cambridge Enterprise has been a delivery partner for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Colombia’s national innovation agency, iNNpulsa. Between 2012 and 2015 Cambridge Enterprise provided training, mentoring and advisory services through multiple programmes lasting up to a year each in order to enhance and strengthen the technology transfer capabilities and capacity in nearly 20 universities. 

The programme had a big impact on all of the participants. One of the objectives for iNNpulsa was to encourage networking across university technology transfer managers in Colombia, and Cambridge Enterprise encouraged us to think collaboratively. Through the programme we were able to develop much more effective commercial strategies for our technologies, and more importantly we built personal networks which meant we could share ideas and concerns as we tried to build our business propositions.

These personal networks are also invaluable for building strategies to help embed an understanding of the commercialisation process in researchers and university administrators. 

Cesar Guerrero, President of CIMA, Director del Centrol de Investigación en Ingeniería y Organizaciones UNAB, Colombia

A prime role for Cambridge Enterprise in these programmes has been that of the provision of “virtual technology transfer office” services, augmenting the work of the client’s commercialisation teams. This effectively adds to the short term capacity of the teams through remote mentoring and access to a huge network of Cambridge mentors with specialist expertise that is directly relevant to a particular commercialisation project. 

In this way Cambridge Enterprise is able to adapt to the pace and rhythm of the development of a project and provide support at a time that meets the needs of the researchers and the technology transfer staff as they develop a strategy for innovation. Often the relationship even extends beyond the formal completion of the programme, with Cambridge Enterprise providing contacts and advice on an informal ad hoc basis where appropriate, and flagging potential commercial opportunities whenever these are spotted. 

While much of Cambridge Enterprise’s work was focused on supporting individual research groups with specific commercial opportunities there was a broader objective to encourage systemic change on a national basis, and to facilitate networking and collaboration cutting across geographical and institutional boundaries. A perfect example of this was the creation of the Colombian Innovation Managers Association (CIMA) network, which was established by a programme cohort in 2014 in order to encourage knowledge sharing and collaboration between researchers and technology transfer offices throughout Colombia.