By Thomas Martinuzzo
Director, Business Development, Science and Engineering, Univalor
I recently had the chance to attend TechConnect World 2013. This annual gathering of technological innovators took place in Washington, D.C., from May 12 to 16. This was the seventh time I had participated in this event, and I have to say that I think it is one of the best engineering conferences that exists. Focused on the advancement of technology in the fields of engineering, nanotechnology, biotechnology and clean technology, TechConnect World is the only international forum that I know of where large companies and venture capital investors can share their technological innovation needs, and where people holding the rights to innovative technologies can present their products to a discerning public. However, not everybody can present at TechConnect World. In 2013, only 20% of the technologies submitted to the selection committee were presented. This means the event brings together the top innovators in the industry.
The event this year was particularly rich in exchanges and discussions. I hosted two panels: one on the material/energy sector and the other on the transport sector. I also had the privilege of presenting one of our technologies—a platform that delivers drugs to the brain via magnetic resonance, designed by Professor Sylvain Martel at the Polytechnique Montréal—to an audience of investors and biotechnology firms. The presentation was well received and could open new opportunities for partnerships and commercialization. The Univalor exhibit booth also allowed us to establish new business contacts and meet with potential investors and licensees for some of our projects.
In the aftermath of this year’s event, I have several observations. First, it is now recognized that large companies are going green at breakneck speed. Primarily, they want to reduce their energy consumption. Technologies related to cloud computing and smart grids are also popular.
Large companies’ thirst for new technologies is such that it is increasingly common for them to set up internal services to determine where they stand in the world of innovation so that they can increase or preserve their market share. This phenomenon has been observed for many years in the pharmaceutical industry, but more rarely in engineering. Notably, companies such as BASF (one of the largest in the chemical industry), Lockheed Martin (military and security), Meadwestvaco (packaging) and BP (oil) sent several people to TechConnect World seeking to establish links with universities.
The trend toward outsourcing research and development (R&D) also continues to grow stronger. We estimate that 50% of BASF’s R&D will be conducted outside its office walls and outside Europe’s borders by 2020. People from the pharmaceutical firm Merck said that 75% of its revenues come from products developed in collaboration with academic researchers or small and medium-sized biotechnology companies.
Events such as TechConnect World are essential. For Univalor, they help us understand trends and focus our activities on emerging needs in technological innovation. Given the rapid evolution of technology, and the brief window of opportunity we have to get technology from the laboratory to the market, events of the calibre of TechConnect World will become increasingly strategic for any organization, such as Univalor, seeking to develop and commercialize innovations from academic research.