Online professional development for the technology transfer community

The AUTM conference in New Orleans in February, welcoming visitors from Hong Kong to Cambridge in June and plans to meet the team we’ve been working with for over a year in Thailand; less than a month ago it looked as though the international aspect of my role might be returning to more than virtual.

However, as we head into the New Year – and, for many, the reintroduction of enhanced measures to try to stem the impact of the Omicron variant – it seems that we may be waiting a little longer welcome guests keen to understand more about Cambridge Enterprise and the successful Cambridge ecosystem.

This engagement with our international counterparts is of great importance to us so we have worked hard to find new and alternative ways to provide these interactions when they cannot be delivered in person.

New opportunities

In September we launched our new online programme in Research Commercialisation and Technology Transfer, aimed at early career technology transfer professionals, or those looking to enter or understand technology transfer within academia. A self-guided, asynchronous programme with weekly live online sessions, the inspiration for the course was to create an online version of the very popular Open Programme that Cambridge Enterprise has been running annually for nearly a decade.

As we started to work with a learning designer to determine what we wanted participants to gain from the course, an opportunity emerged to share our 50 years of experience while helping others to fully understand the context and ecosystem in which they operate. Our training has always been predicated on the fact that it’s not as simple as providing a playbook that can be implemented. At its heart, our approach is about sharing our knowledge – not just of Cambridge, but of working with colleagues globally – to support others to understand what they need to effectively support their institutions in creating economic and social impact from their research. It’s about helping to create what works for each individual location, whether that be Brazil, Botswana or Bangkok.

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Research Commercialisation and Technology Transfer course

Building the course

Creating the course was an exciting challenge for us all – learning how to translate our face-to-face training into a rich online experience, using a variety of tools to make an engaging programme that still focussed on collaboration and building a network of peers globally. The result is a content-rich course that supports participants to understand their own context, both at an institutional level and the wider ecosystem. It explores in detail the various mechanisms of research commercialisation (consultancy, technology licensing and new venture creation) and looks at how best to manage each process, with lots of practical guidance. Work around the soft skills essential for effective practice – negotiation skills and how to engage with internal and external stakeholders – also features in the programme.

Research Commercialisation and Technology Transfer was one of the first courses on the newly launched Cambridge Advance Online platform, offering unique access to online professional development courses from University of Cambridge academics. Weekly online live sessions are delivered by our International Associates and bring in Cambridge Enterprise experience and case studies. The programme borrows from, and indeed features, some of the world’s leading technology transfer offices to provide a global perspective, and shares experience from key staff at Cambridge Enterprise.

The first cohort

As with launching any new product or service, there’s always a moment of breath-holding when it finally gets released to the market. Our first cohort started at the end of September 2021, a mix of technology transfer staff, postdoctoral researchers keen to understand the research commercialisation process for their own future development, key staff working in commercialisation centres and even an entrepreneurial PhD student.

There were some inevitable learnings for the new platform. Our weekly online sessions changed format in response to feedback from the participants, becoming more like our face-to-face programmes. And unfortunately, COVID-19 even struck a few of our participants during the programme. But at the end of the eight week course, the response has been fantastic.

One of the most useful courses I have ever done. Clear, structured and straight to the point.

Course participant, September 2021 cohort

I was expecting to come away with good and structured understanding of tech transfer services in University settings. It certainly exceeded my expectations.

Course participant, September 2021 cohort

Looking ahead

The wonderful comments from our learners sum up everything we had hoped for from the course. In designing it, our aspiration was to replicate the effectiveness of the training we have successfully delivered face-to-face worldwide. Cognisant that after nearly two years many are feeling a little jaded by online learning and participation, it has been fantastic to receive such feedback from our inaugural cohort. And while I am truly looking forward to be able to visit partner institutions around the world to deliver bespoke training, or welcome them to immerse themselves in Cambridge, I’m delighted to have helped create something that everyone can access – not just without travel, but which can fit around their work and other commitments.

As the next course starts in January 2022, I look forward to welcoming another cohort of participants and including them in the growing alumni of tech transfer professionals supporting each other globally.

Interested in the course details?

Learn more about the Research Commercialisation and Technology Transfer course, including upcoming course dates and information on how to register, at Cambridge Advance Online.

Find out more