Last year brought many rapid developments to the University of Tartu in terms of business cooperation and applied research. We launched a number of new initiatives ourselves, and the environment around us is changing rapidly.
Here are the most important trends shaping our activities:
- The investment environment as a whole in Estonia and the surrounding region will gradually focus on deep-tech companies, unlocking great potential for European competition.
- The Estonian state has set a goal to support the research intensity of existing companies through active intervention in innovation policy.
- The University of Tartu’s new development programme formulates a more active role for the university in shaping the national economy.
The volume of R&D service contracts with companies and the public sector increased by 2.4 million euros
In total, UT researchers provided the public and private sectors with 13.8 million euros worth of contracted services. The amount of development work ordered by the private sector accounted for 53%, or 7.3 million euros.
In addition to the commissioned R&D services, the volume of grants applied for in cooperation with companies also increased significantly last year. While in 2019, these grants amounted to 3.9 million euros, this amount increased to 11.2 million in 2020. Most of this amount stems from grants requested from H2020 actions.
UT partnership program
By the end of 2020, UT’s partnership program grew to include more than 60 companies. The program’s client portfolio includes several business associations and state agencies.
Cooperation between UT and companies in its partnership program takes diverse forms. Last year, partnership program clients ordered University of Tartu R&D services worth half a million euros. In addition, at least 60 internships were offered to students (including postgraduate students), including several internship projects. Such companies are also active in participating in the organization of studies. More than 50 practitioners from different spheres of life attended lectures at UT to share their experiences. Partnership program clients also help UT actively contribute to society. For example, several companies have continued to support the UT Youth Academy. Companies in the partnership program, and company associations, including Swedbank and the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Estonia, have created their own scholarship funds for UT students.
In 2020, 260 inquiries were submitted to Adapter – the Estonian network of research and development institutions. Of them, 66 were for specific research services. Since the network’s foundation, almost 1,000 inquiries have been submitted by companies and the public and third sectors.
Over the course of the year, 81 cases of cooperation with Adapter were handled, 40 of them with the University of Tartu.
Three institutions joined Adapter: The Centre of Competence for Wood Processing and Furniture Manufacturing TSENTER (part of the Võru County Vocational Training Centre), the Estonian Aviation Academy and Mainor Estonian Business School.
The investment environment as a whole in Estonia and the surrounding region is gradually focusing on deep-tech companies, which have great competitive potential in Europe. This is mentioned both in the strategies of the European Investment Fund for the future and in the Estonian government’s preparatory support measures. This trend has also set higher expectations for our program for spin-off companies.
In the autumn of 2020, we launched our program for spin-off companies in a new form. We divided the program into six-month development cycles to offer even more standardized services within the program. An intellectual property audit and conflict of interest mapping were added as a mandatory part of our program. Due to the growing interest of investor communities in applied science at the University of Tartu, we are now able to provide more thorough and versatile mentoring by investors.
During the past year, Tartu Science Park, Prototron, the SEB growth program, EST VCA, ESTBAN, Health Founders, SPM Advisory and Superangel were added as important cooperation partners.
In September 2020, we adopted 15 new deep-tech business initiatives under the renewed program.
The creation of a UT intellectual property investment and management company brought an important opportunity to our technology transfer toolbox. Apart from the transfer and licensing of intellectual property, we can now convert UT knowledge and technology into shares in start-ups. This will make our negotiations on the use of IP rights much more flexible. We see the need for this opportunity in connection with the intensification of activities related to the establishment of deep-tech companies, where the start-up company often does not have the resources to use other solutions in the initial phase.
By the end of 2020, the number of patent applications and patents in force at the University of Tartu totalled 69. Of these, 26 were patent applications and 43 previously issued patents. These patents and patent applications are filed for the protection of a total of 27 inventions. In addition, our intellectual property portfolio includes two software solutions.
We are looking for a license buyer and developer for five of the 29 objects (including three for international pharmaceutical companies), eight are under licensing negotiations with spin-off companies, eight are licensed, six are the basis of research and development projects and the invention protection of two objects is coming to an end.
In the last three years, UT has invested a total of 284,000 euros in the protection of intellectual property (in 2018 – €65,000, 2019 – €75,000, 2020 – €144,000).
UT Feasibility Fund
The feasibility fund is a UT internal support measure for researchers who wish to further develop an applied idea based on their research into a product or service.
At the beginning of 2019, UT issued its first feasibility fund. At the time, the application was limited only to the faculty of Science and Technology. In 2019, we funded six projects, totalling €175,000. A year later, it was already clear that this support measure would lead to projects from basic science to initial prototypes of products and services. By then, the first six funded projects had all reached either a ready-made solution (such as a rohemeeter.ee and an ignition tablet) or experiments with industrial partners (such as levane production method and bio-based raw polymer coating).
The 2020 call for proposals was open to researchers from all fields. All in all, we opted to support ten projects amount to a total of 263,000 euros. It is too early to talk about the results of all the projects, but some have developed quite quickly. The laboratory prototype of the muon radiation-based scanning machine created by Madis Kiisk, co-professor of ionizing radiation physics, was completed and today together with GScan, it received a grant of 7.5 million euros from H2020 measures to create a prototype for full-scale customs procedures.