'I do this work to help researchers make a difference'

How UU's research policy contributes to entrepreneurship and innovation

As research policy advisor at Utrecht University, Maarten Flinkenflögel focuses on impact and valorisation. Together with colleagues, he recently wrote a step-by-step guide for employees who are considering starting a business based on their research. I do this work to help researchers make a difference.

About this series

As university, we want to make our knowledge available to society and offer solutions, says Anton Pijpers, president of the Executive Board. Contributing to society can be done in many ways and our research policy should allow for this. We encourage our students and colleagues to be entrepreneurial: take initiative! Don't wait around for someone else to take action.

In this interview series, the Centre for Entrepreneurship introduces you to the people who can help take your idea further, or make that possible. In the left-hand column you will find the other articles in this series.

Research for society

Maarten Flinkenflögel, medewerker onderzoeksbeleid bij de Universiteit Utrecht

Valorisation, what is that exactly?

I use a broad definition myself: the use of scientific knowledge in society. I would prefer to equate it with 'societal impact'. Most people interpret valorisation purely as making money from scientific research. I find that too narrow; something that is of societal importance does not immediately mean that it will, or can make money.

For me, it is also about the results of research ending up in education as part of an up-to-date and lively curriculum. Or young people who are inspired by it to work in science themselves. For me, that is also social impact, and therefore valorisation.

That sounds like a broad remit.

Fortunately, we already have many initiatives within Utrecht University aimed at social impact. Think of Open Science, Public Engagement, the Green Office or Incluusion* - a lot is already happening. Fortunately, that limits my range of tasks. The subjects of entrepreneurship and public-private partnerships play an important role in this.

I work a lot with colleagues at the faculties, for example on research policy and the Research Support Offices, and with Utrecht Holdings, the UU Centre for Entrepreneurship and UtrechtInc**. And of course with colleagues in the university administration, both from the Student, Education & Research department and from other departments.

How does the university help people with a good idea?

We recently published a guide for employees who are considering starting a business based on their research. In the form of a step-by-step plan, it describes all the steps to take. These include the protection of intellectual property and how to obtain the necessary licences, but also the preparation of a good business case and the acquisition of funding. The guide also discusses the services and facilities that exist to help with this.

To the guide 'From Researcher to Academic Entrepreneur'

Another example are the additional resources for Upper Faculty Entrepreneurship Projects, which can be used, for example, to finance a proof-of-concept study or the support of a business developer. Researchers can apply for this through the Research Support Office of their faculty.

How does such a guide or scheme come about?

Apart from translating policy into concrete actions, my colleagues and I really have a signalling role. What is going on? How can things be improved? In the case of the Upper Faculty Entrepreneurship Projects, the signal from the Research Support Offices was that almost all subsidies are aimed at a concrete research project - or at large-scale proof-of-concept studies. There was still a lack of a funding opportunity to take early, sometimes less elaborate ideas a step further. Fortunately, the Executive Board recognised this, and funds were made available.

In eighteen months' time, we have funded twelve projects; it really fills a gap. A young postdoc researcher told me that this funding made it possible to explore the route to a spin-off. Otherwise, his research would probably have remained untouched. That's why I do this work. To help researchers make a difference.

For me, valorisation is making use of scientific knowledge in society.

What do you think is a good example of entrepreneurship at Utrecht University?

It's difficult to choose, there is so much going on! I think it's great to see how many researchers are exploring entrepreneurship. Young researchers with a lot of enthusiasm who are not afraid to try something out. With their research group they work together with companies and if that goes well they continue, for example in a spin-off.

I think the Utrecht Data School is a very good example of entrepreneurial behaviour. They serve a societal purpose, generate income through third-flow projects and are very visible. They share their knowledge in a fun and enterprising way, the joy of the participants is clearly showing off.

Showcased: the Utrecht Data School

At the Utrecht Data School, students investigate 'big data' on behalf of companies, non-profit organisations and governments.

From research to startup

Are you employed by Utrecht University in an academic position and are you thinking about starting your own business? Then the guide From Researcher to Academic Entrepreneur has been compiled for you. In this guide, we set out the steps you need to follow to start up a business. We also explain what support services are available to you.

To the guide 'From Researcher to Academic Entrepreneur'