How academic consultancy can help advise the sci-tech industry

27 Oct 2021

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Trinity College Dublin’s consultancy office aims to cut down the red tape between academic consultants and industry players.

Industry has always benefitted from academic institutions, gaining access to talent and research, particularly in the sci-tech sectors.

In recent years, there have been calls for greater industry-academic collaboration in areas of research that can generate greater outcomes not just for the industry partners but for the wider society.

Examples of industry-academic collaborations include the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology and Alltech working together to promote sustainable food production, Loci Orthopaedics and NUI Galway teaming up to develop 3D-printed solutions for treating arthritis, and Microsoft Ireland and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) collaborating to accelerate advancements in quantum tech.

But there are other ways for symbiotic relationships to flourish, such as academic consultancy.

This means utilising the expertise, resources and cutting-edge research from individual academics within universities to solve problems or answer questions within industry that can advance and strengthen developments.

However, while access to specific experts may sound like a dream come true for many industry players, especially start-ups and SMEs, time constraints can be a challenge.

Kate Smyth is consultancy development officer of Consult Trinity, TCD’s new consultancy office.

Consult Trinity is a pilot programme designed to support academics who would like to spread their knowledge beyond their own academic roles to make a greater societal impact. It does this by acting as a liaison, managing consultancy projects and ensuring the engagement process is smooth.

“These consultancy projects mean companies can access tailor-made, bespoke solutions to queries or receive suggestions in how to lead in innovative advancements in their sector,” said Smyth.

“It is a low-risk, high-reward engagement, usually short-term, which has the potential to lead to longer-term projects with universities, with access to new technologies and scientific developments.”

Smyth said the consultancy office aims to solve the time management problem that can get in the way of academic consultancy.

“It allows for the timelines and deliverables to be mapped out in advance, and removes any administrative burden, allowing both the academic and the industry partner to focus on the project and on achieving results.”

Specific expertise

While consultancy in the broader sense is a well-known option for companies, academic consultancy can offer unique, research-based expertise from those working and teaching directly in a particular field.

This means when it comes to companies looking for very specific knowledge in areas of science and technology, for example, an academic can offer a deep well of expertise in areas such as augmented and virtual reality, AI, drug development programmes, spectrometry and microscopy, or the design of derivatives in biochemistry and immunology.

One example of academic consultancy in action is from Prof Anne Marie Healy at TCD’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Healy recently worked with a start-up in San Francisco by providing advice on developing pharma formulations for oral drug delivery.

“The potential benefit to the company and to getting me involved is that they can speed up the time to launch of the product, and they’re competing with the big players,” said Healy.

“Anything that can help them progress their project in a timely manner is going to be of huge benefit to them.”

Most academics will be offer advice like this, having often been researching and publishing in their fields for years or even decades.

Smyth added that the benefit of having a dedicated office for consultancy projects is that the consultancy can be managed through a specifically designated team that can address any legal or insurance issues, “paving the way for the academic and the client to engage, without any red tape”.

Jenny Darmody is the deputy editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com