A program to transform research into startups and products

A program to transform research into startups and products

This is how Politecnico di Milano, PoliHub and Deloitte try to give wings to innovation that is born in university classrooms

Startup (Getty Images) Six hundred innovators involved, one hundred and eighty projects presented, only twenty-five selected. The twelfth edition of Switch2Product, the call of the Politecnico di Milano created in collaboration with PoliHub (the innovation park & ​​startup accelerator of the Milanese university) and Deloitte, ended with an increase in participation by 20%.

The competition, which started in June, involves professors, researchers and alumni from the university in Piazza Leonardo da Vinci every year, but is extended to the ecosystem players. The prize money is one million euros.

The work of the jurors is complex, given the technological potential of future companies. For the winners of the various categories (there will also be a section dedicated to Covid 19), cash prizes and the opportunity to access personalized mentorship and accompaniment paths together with the partners of the initiative. Notable names, in the startup environment and beyond. There are Mip (the Business School of the Politecnico), B4i (Bocconi for innovation), Joule (Eni's school for business), the Giordano Dell'Amore Social Venture Foundation, the Milan Monza Brianza and Lodi Chamber of Commerce, and Bugnion, a firm specialized in the protection of intellectual property.

"Innovative, flexible and capable of responding to change, startups prove, in this period of crisis and tension, a resource for the business system" has commented Ferruccio Resta, rector of the Polytechnic, at the end of the proceedings. The projects presented "testify to the ability to react and the desire to propose new ideas" he continued: "Stimuli that Milan and Lombardy need for a recovery that is not rethinking the pre-Covid, but designing a new world that starts from knowledge and research ".

What distinguishes a winning startup

“We received 180 proposals in a difficult year, and all profoundly technological. There is not only software: here we are talking about materials, photonics, hardware, in short "underlines with a touch of pride Andrea Sianesi, president of PoliHub.

" After all - the manager continues - it is of a linear reasoning: those who make deep tech need laboratories to validate the data to be presented to investors, and these structures are found in large universities such as the Politecnico. Universities, on the other hand, are creating more and more synergies with businesses, some of which are continuously present in the classrooms ".

Is technology transfer still a taboo among academics? “The world has changed. If before they attended an executive course to improve their status within the company, today members want to acquire skills that can be spent immediately to bring their business to success. It is an example, but I would say it is the indicator of a wider phenomenon. On the other hand, there is a category of innovators who do research for the pure pleasure of discovery, and do not have the entrepreneurial spirit in their hearts ".

These people, says Sianesi, must be accompanied in a different way: "By insisting less on the administrative and managerial aspects, and more, instead, on those of intellectual property, which allow them to enhance their discoveries". For this reason, the next edition of Switch2Product will have a double track right from the start. For the record, the university currently has about two thousand patents in portfolios.

The future is in collaboration

December, time to take stock. What year was it? According to Andrea Poggi, Senior Partner and North / South Europe Innovation Leader for Deloitte, "2020 has made us even more aware of the role of innovation", with the result that previously absent categories were recruited in the digital arena. “A recent study of ours shows that 59% of retirees used digital for the first time during the pandemic. And many have found that it is not that difficult ", he explains.

But there is another, central aspect in these twelve months torn apart by the pandemic. "Businesses have realized that large investment programs have too long reaction times for today's challenges. To pursue change, the best way is to bring solutions that, however, were born outside the company perimeter ", he adds.

A change that is reflected in startups: the model of the team that starts in stay, alone against all, is it at sunset? “The start-ups have understood that the traditional path is longer - Poggi believes - Probably, agreeing with the big companies that accelerate the process is a better and faster way to grow. A fundamental point, and Covid has taught us this. And the flexibility of the team becomes increasingly important: its potential ability to adapt to market demand was one of the main aspects of our assessment. Today nobody can do it alone, without an incubation process. ”

What to expect in the next two years? " Cooperation. The sectors that are strong are digital, e-commerce, biotechnology and everything related to sustainability. New opportunities will be created for a large number of actors - he-he says. New contractual forms will give work to the legal sector, there will be space for those involved in communication, because passion and technical competence are not enough. And then there will be those who, like us, will help companies find the best strategy for the go-to-market, taking advantage of the network made up of customers and the experience that comes from a consolidated presence in the sector ".

If a long and potentially rewarding journey opens up for the 2020 winners (here is the list), the 2021 appointment with Switch2Product is set for June. Better write it down on your agenda: past editions have produced successful companies such as Empatica (2010), Goliath (2015), Phononic Vibes (2017), Phothon Path (2018).

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