More than one in ten ERC funded researchers who responded to a survey say they had either created companies, transferred the results of their research to pre-existing companies, or both. Among the recipients of ERC Proof of Concept Grants, this tendency towards academic entrepreneurship is much higher – with half of them engaging in knowledge-transfer activities.
The primary objective of ERC funding is the creation of radically new knowledge, allowing Europe to take a leading role in creating scientific and technological paradigm shifts. The ERC’s success shall be ultimately measured on how well it advanced the frontiers of knowledge. The scientific breakthroughs and the new knowledge created by ERC-funded projects are shared via highly impactful publications, benefiting the scientific community and society at large.
As the history of innovation shows, the knowledge accumulated in years of research and the new knowledge created by pushing research frontiers forward is key. It is an essential ingredient in the process leading to innovations that contribute to economic growth and human welfare. Although not falling under the ERC’s core mission, it is implicit that some of the knowledge created by ERC-funded projects will have an “impact beyond science”. The ERC defines this as economic benefits, social benefits or contribution to policy making.
In November 2020 the ERCEA conducted a survey among the 9,270 Principal Investigators (PIs) who had received one or more ERC grants since its creation in 2007. The survey’s aim was to assess how the ERC fulfils an expectation that its funding will also contribute to driving innovation and business inventiveness.
The survey consisted of two questions: 1) whether the results of the ERC-funded research directly contributed to the creation of a new company and 2) whether the results of the ERC-funded research had been transferred to a pre-existing company. Almost 4,900 ERC funded researchers gave their views.
More than 560 ERC PIs (over 11% of respondents) declared that they had either created companies or transferred the results of their research to pre-existing companies (41 did both).
Around 10% of the PIs who responded to the survey had an ERC Proof of Concept (PoC) grant, a percentage that reflects the share of PIs with a PoC in the total population of ERC grantees.
However, the ERC PIs who also managed to obtain a PoC have a much higher tendency towards academic entrepreneurship. More than half of the PIs with a PoC have either created companies or transferred the results of their research to pre-existing companies, compared to only 7% among the PIs who do not have a PoC.
Among the non-PoC “academic entrepreneurs”, the preference goes towards knowledge transfer to pre-existing companies rather than company creation, while the opposite applies to PoC grantees.
According to the results of the survey, the PoC scheme seems to meet successfully the objective to facilitate the work of those ERC grant holders who seek to investigate the commercial and societal potential of their research. It represents the initial step to help the transfer of new ideas from the lab to where they can be applied, further developed, possibly used and commercialised.
The survey results and further desk-research provide valuable data on and key performance indicators of the creation of start-up companies, their industry of operation, their geographical location, the role of the PI, as well as data on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)/licence transfer, Research and Development (R&D) contracts and consulting agreements with pre-existing companies.
Further analysis of these knowledge transfers as well as of the created companies – their type, their size, year of foundation, further funding, patenting activities etc. – will provide valuable information on the impact of the research beyond science.