Over the years, our research expertise has broadened and deepened enormously. But our enthusiasm for exploitation of research results has not changed. EDM aims to conduct research that creates impact far beyond the walls of the university. And in doing so, we also like to - and often do - join forces with partners from other disciplines, organisations and companies.
I started my career as a researcher at EDM, but my greatest fascination has always been the question: How can academic research make a difference in industrial practice? As an Industrial Research Fund (IOF)/business development manager I act as a bridge between the academic world and external partners, as the first point of contact for external companies and organisations interested in identifying possible cooperation opportunities. I am also in continuous contact with the Hasselt University Tech Transfer Office (TTO).
Within EDM we obtain a lot of research results with enormous potential for exploitation. How can we put that research into practice? And how can we bring it into industries, companies and organisations where our insights can really make a difference? That question is central to everything I do.
Bridging the gap between EDM research and industrial practice is an exercise that begins before our research has even started. What questions and needs are relevant to the industry? For what challenges are they seeking concrete solutions? Where can we help them grow and professionalise in their move towards digitisation? We have these discussions with potential partners before we even draw up project applications for strategic basic research and applied research. For us, the needs of the industry are always the compass that sets the direction for our research activities.
As a business development manager I spend a lot of time writing local and European project applications. I bring the partners together and in my contribution of the application I mainly focus on the economic relevance of our research to industry. I coordinate the legal contract design with the experts from the Hasselt University Tech Transfer Office.
In recent years, EDM has participated in seven large-scale European projects, accounting for a total project volume of more than 2.5 million euros. And yet we are still far from having achieved our ambition, and still aim to participate in new EU projects.
We have been part of Flanders Make since 2018 and we are extremely happy with that, including in terms of the commercialisation potential. We noticed that the manufacturing industry can benefit greatly from variants of our research and we are participating intensively in this Strategic Research Centre (SOC). This means that we continuously ask ourselves how we can make the technology that we have already developed within EDM relevant to the manufacturing industry in other application areas, and we also start completely new research projects based on the needs of the manufacturing industry.
Although we have only been a core lab in Flanders Make since 2018, we have currently (end of 2021) already taken on five ICON projects and three SBO projects. The total project volume of more than 3 million euros proves that we can make a relevant contribution to this wave of digitisation for the manufacturing industry. In 2020, together with Flanders Make we even signed a licensing agreement with a technology company for the use of one of our research results for the manufacturing industry.
The manufacturing industry is a relatively new domain for us, but it is extremely exciting to take on interesting opportunities and challenges in this new setting. We are convinced that our research expertise can add value to this sector, and we are taking on this challenge with great enthusiasm.
Does our participation in Flanders Make mean that from now on we will only conduct research into applications relevant to the manufacturing industry? Absolutely not, although that is of course our focus at the moment. The research we conduct can be relevant to a wide variety of industries and areas of application. If we achieve findings with our research that could also be relevant for other industries, we always examine in detail how we can best market those findings. Will we set up a spin-off? Will we look for companies to work with? Should we opt for a licensing formula or should we apply for a patent? Together with the Hasselt University Tech Transfer Office, we look for a tailor-made solution every time.
EDM has a very strong tradition in spin-off creation. Since its foundation, our research institute has started no fewer than nine spin-offs: that is many times more than the number of spin-offs set up by other Hasselt University research groups. In the next five years we would like to create at least one new spin-off to bring our research results to the market. In collaboration with Imo-Imomec, an initiative is currently underway to set up a spin-off relating to silicon devices.
We closely monitor all our research results with commercialisation potential and use all available channels to bring these results closer to the market. Over the past five years, EDM has carried out several IOF projects, we have set up a VLAIO living lab for Industry 4.0 - where we advise and support small and large businesses on the use of augmented and virtual reality - and we have filed various patent applications and numerous reports of inventions at the Hasselt University Tech Transfer Office. This proves our drive to exploit our research as much as possible.
There has also been a lot of activity at EDM in terms of licensing formulas. We have concluded licensing agreements not only with spin-off companies, but also with external companies and organisations.
The strategy we choose to commercialise our research results differs from project to project. That is true customisation. What is important is the focus on exploitation and the concerted effort to create impact with our research results that goes far beyond the confines of the university.