The Kenya Innovation Week (KIW) 2022 witnessed a number of activities showcasing innovations from research institutions, universities, technical and vocational training centers, development partners, private sector, start-ups among others. Established as a platform to ‘champion relevant policy engagements on innovations within institutions while promoting practical skills necessary to create innovations that impact people’, KIW2022 attracted more than 2000 delegates drawn from 443 organisations who participated across six thematic tracks. They included; skills and talent for innovation, 4IR& digital transformation, commercialisation, startup Kenya, innovations in the public sector and students' innovations. Among the participating organisations were universities and research institutions that laid foundations for a new strategic relationship with Kenya National Innovation Agency (KeNIA), industry, think tank institutions and development partners domiciled in and out of Kenya.
Most of the universities and public research organisations in Kenya have been able to underline their priorities for research and innovation. These priorities range from research and innovation generation, transformation of the society through research outputs and innovations generated to the development of partnership of equals. This agenda also overlaps significantly and is at the centrepiece of KeNIA’s national ambitions as outlined by KeNIA’s CEO Dr. Tony Omwansa. Despite the universities and research institutions being at the centre in steering the commercialisation of research outputs and innovations, they have faced a number of challenges. Weak framework for university-industry linkages, a lack of prioritisation of commercialisation by the management, a lack of strategies and infectiveness of various Technology transfer offices established, are among the challenges articulated by the chairman of KeNIA Prof Tom Ogada during the launch of the commercialisation guidelines at KIW2022.
To address these challenges, KeNIA in collaboration with the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) and through the support of UKAid’s Africa Technology and Innovation Partnership (ATIP), launched a new initiative called – Institutional Commercialization Support (IS). The program’s objective is to strengthen technology and innovation ecosystems and thus IS foregrounds the need to increase research outputs commercialisation at the institution level. A meeting with universities and research institutions at the KIW 2022, focused on building the growing momentum around research for commercialisation and responding to the challenges identified.
Pathways for commercialisation of research outputs
Institutional commercialisation support phase II key output will be the support of the universities and research institutions to come up with a truly transformative document; an institutional commercialisation master plan to guide translation of research outputs and products into meaning innovations for societal benefits. This has also been outlined elsewhere as a pathway particularly in signing off new spinout’s formation. The proposed institutional master plan development will take a long-term approach, identifying actions designed to audit the institution’s commercialised outputs over time, entail relevant skills to run a technology transfer office as well build key staff capacity over a period of time. While we are currently working with five (5) institutions following competitive selection of institutions through an expression of interest, the project proposes to develop an inclusive approach to allow non-selected institutions to learn through other networking sessions such as regional innovation weeks.
A centrepiece of the institutional commercialisation support is the creation and strengthening of the Technology Transfer Offices, which brings research outputs of the researchers/students closer to innovation hubs and or markets. It is envisioned that the TTO’s will be fully fledge with requisite framework, staff and operations to address commercialisation aspects and foster collaborations of the generators of the research products and outputs to the markets or those who require to use them.
A number of technology transfer mechanisms have been identified from the universities that may include; creation of new companies to exploit development of new products generated by university, consultancies, licencing as well as the establishment of research and development agreements between universities/research institutions and industry. The IS phase II will explore together with the participating institutions these mechanisms and raise the awareness of other technology commercialization strategies.
There is a plethora of spill over practices from successful commercialisation of research outputs across institutions. Benchmarking of these initiatives and learning from them will be another pathways that IS phase II project will employ. The project has established institutional working group who are dedicated staff members to spearhead commercialisation efforts. The team will support knowledge transfer across the institution as a mechanism for facilitating institutional change.