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Joana Tobella, technical director at Cetaqua

Knokledge transference as a way to boost innovation

Every day it’s becoming clearer the need to transfer the knowledge obtained from R&D+i. In the last years, Cetaqua has intensified its efforts in this field, using it as an innovation leverage and as an entrance gate to new opportunities, always oriented towards the application and generation of results that add a value to society.

For this, there is a human team that works to ensure that the recruitment of new projects is aligned with the strategic interests of the center. Cetaqua, in these years, has known how to exploit its growth potential with the development of unique solutions marked by a complex climatic and environmental environment. It is in this sense that the transfer of knowledge is especially relevant, since it allows the results and innovative solutions to be transferred to key actors and society in general.

Joana Tobella, expert in hydrology, technology and water management and technical director of projects at Cetaqua, explains in detail what the process behind projects is like to transfer knowledge and convert research into real solutions, with benefits for the society.

1. What is the process like until the start of a project?

First, we analyze what we should work on (the roadmaps) based on business needs and European trends. We analyze what other technological research centers are doing and, based on that, we build our own roadmaps. Subsequently, we look for financing funds, both public and private, to help us carry out these projects.

2. What are the types of financing and what depends on whether a project is financed with public or private funds?

There are two types of financing, public and private. Each one of them has its particularities: private projects are usually shorter, between six months and a year, with a more limited budget, and we execute them privately with a client, who is the one who finances it. At the same time, publicly financed projects tend to be longer (two to four years), with a higher budget.

At the execution level, we develop public projects in a consortium formed by different partners at a European level. Another key difference between the two types of financing, lies in the preparation of the proposals: while in the public proposals, we start thinking about a project a year before we actually start working on it, in private financing everything goes much faster, from the proposal to the start of the project.

Finally, another key difference is intellectual property. Privately financed projects, since they are paid by a client, the intellectual property belongs to this client. However, public funds allow us to generate our own intellectual property in Cetaqua centers.

3. Cetaqua has obtained various public subsidies within the European framework, such as the Next Generation, Horizon Europe or Life funds. What is the importance of obtaining these public funds and how has Cetaqua benefited from them?

Public financing is key for Cetaqua, since it represents an essential input for the sustainability of the centers. In addition, projects financed with public funds allow us to generate new results and methodologies of our own intellectual property.

These funds are often hard to come by and success rates are usually very low. This forces us to be more demanding of ourselves to execute winning proposals and helps us grow in our capabilities.

4. What are the keys to getting a privately funded research project approved?

Success rates at a European level are usually very low. In recent years, we have been very successful in the European calls, achieving very satisfactory success rates. We believe that the key to this is to focus projects on impact.

The European Commission wants the projects to have an impact on society, on companies, on the economy, etc. For this reason, in addition to scientific-technical rigor, we believe that it is key that projects can demonstrate that they are going to generate an impact and that they are going to be able to be implemented. In this way, the fact that Cetaqua orientates towards implementation and transfer, helps a lot when proposing projects to the European Commission.

5. Are current funding programs sufficient?

At a European level, we do see many programs that adapt very well to our activity. However, at the regional and state level, we observe how, in comparison with other European countries (Germany, the Netherlands or Norway, for example), the programs are scarcer and with less funding.

6. Transferring the results is key for the results of the project to have meaning. How is the transfer of knowledge carried out?

We do not have a single transfer process, but, depending on the type of result, we carry out some actions or others.

Broadly speaking, we could say that there are three main types of transfer: projects that involve an operational improvement, which we usually transfer to operators so that they can implement it. Those projects whose results are technological validations that have an impact in the portfolio so that, later, companies in the business part can complete it or generate new services based on these results.

Finally, in the case of digital results, the aim is to implement them in already existing products or in other systems that may have operators, for example. This type of transfer is the most complex because it involves a phase of implementation, testing, deployment, support, etc.

7. Does the transfer of knowledge vary depending on whether the projects are publicly or privately financed?

The most important thing is to have the final user (end-user) involved during the execution of the project. When it is privately financed it is easier to have it involved, since the end user is the customer who pays for the project and the owner of the intellectual property.

In publicly financed projects we have to be very proactive in identifying end users and involve them in the execution of the project to ensure that the results are duly transferred.

8. What would be the keys to maximize the transferred results?

The transfer part is complex, and we are still far from getting 100% of our results transferred. Some important aspects to improve this transfer potential would be, for example, the mindset of the researchers when executing the projects towards the final product; execute in agile involving the end-user during the project and simplifying developments as much as possible, especially in the digital area. In addition, we believe that it is important to go from training mode to testing mode in a fast and agile way, which means that we have to test the developments in a real environment and in the conditions in which the end user will find themselves to ensure the transfer of knowledge.

Click here to listen to the podcast with Joana Tobella (Only available in Spanish)>>>

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