In Greece we’re proud of the research work taking place in Universities and Research Centers and this is justified by indices such as the number of research publications per million of R&D expenditure (country ranked 9th among 25 EU states in 2018 ) or the amount of research expenditure funded by the European Commission (which is between 10% to 12% over the last decade, one of the highest in Europe ). However, Greece scores really low in indices that have to do with research commercialization and technology transfer, i.e., in activities that have to do with taking the research results to the market, such as the number of patent applications (only 8,38 applications per million inhabitants, when the EU average is 106,84 ). The comparison with countries with similar population, such as Israel or Belgium, is really discouraging.
We can thus easily identify a clear gap that exists in this area and seek ways to address it. Fortunately, there have been developments in this domain over the last few years that have created a good momentum. The recent law (4864/2021) for research spin-offs, and the program of the Ministry of Development to support the operation of Technology Transfer Offices in all Greek universities and research centers are in the right direction. Moreover, the creation of Venture Capital funds focusing on this domain (such as Uni.Fund) have also created a positive impact. The question is “Can we accelerate the pace of development and turn this gap into an opportunity?” And, following this, “How can the economy and the private sector benefit from the country’s research potential?”
In order to address this issue, we need to work on its root cause; and this has to do with the mindset of people. For decades we have educated people, especially engineers and researchers, to work on a technical solution and focus on their research alone, implying that interaction with the market is at best indifferent, at worst a negative thing. Even if we take a different stance now, this cannot change from one day to the other. People with great technical expertise and research results at hand, that have been developed over years in research labs, often lack the business acumen and mindset required to work with industry. Even if they have developed such skills, they are more likely to prefer working on further advancing the technical aspects and thus avoid or “cannot” focus on the steps required to take a product to the market.
Educating University students and researchers right from the beginning in developing entrepreneurial competences (see for example the Entrecomp framework ) is definitely required but won’t make a great difference in the next five to ten years. What could work though would be to network the research community with business-minded people and support the creation of interdisciplinary teams that will then be guided through a business-acceleration process.
The creation of interdisciplinary teams is a common practice in MBA classes and entrepreneurship programs. Pairing such teams with researchers would be the first step in the direction of broadly developing entrepreneurship competencies across actors in the whole ecosystem. The team would then be guided into the following process:
- Develop the concept, i.e., develop a product or service concept by deploying a technical innovation in a specific business problem and with a specific customer segment in mind,
- Identify the market opportunity and the competition, and validate the business need and the concept, in the form of a preliminary business plan / business concept,
- Develop a proof-of-concept with a pilot customer to get actual business validation results at hand and demonstrate the proof-of-value.
The above steps would naturally lead to two important outcomes:
- Interdisciplinary teams that would have passed through a “make or break” organic process,
- Validated business concepts and respective business plans that would have passed a de-risking process.
We need to apply only minor changes to existing MBA curricula, acceleration programs and entrepreneurship competitions to allow more of the above to happen. Moreover, proof-of-concept grants are becoming more widely available, as policy makers have understood that this is the way to go in Europe and the private sector in collaboration with top Universities and Research Centers have started organizing Proof-of-Concept programs (see for example the work of scienceagora.eu).
Adding to the above, the development of VC funds focusing on technology transfer and research commercialization across Europe and the fact that private investors trust more and more the Greek entrepreneurial ecosystem, we are not far from creating a whole system in the country to ignite innovation. An MBA program with a clear international and entrepreneurial orientation, such as the MBA International of AUEB, could be leading the way to make this happen!