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Bringing astronomical innovation to markets

The first edition of the Astronomical Innovation event, co-organized by the PlanetS Technology & Innovation Platform (TIP) and the Science Innovation Hub (SIH) of the University of Geneva, took place at the Geneva Observatory in June. There, researchers learned of the support that PlanetS and its member institutions can provide in exploring the path to entrepreneurship.  

Prof. Stéphane Udry, University of Geneva, welcomed the guests at the Observatory for the event. Image: Julien Levallois

“To transfer innovation across academia and industry, networks like NCCRs play an essential role, as they foster collaborations within Switzerland”, PlanetS director and co-leader of the PlanetS TIP, Prof. Nicolas Thomas told the audience in his opening address.

He was joined by Prof. Jérôme Lacour, Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Geneva who proclaimed to the audience: “Be open, be curious, be a scientist!”

Roughly thirty researchers and engineers of all career stages had gathered in the Aula of the Observatory, eager to learn how their ideas could be brought to markets with the help of innovation experts from the four PlanetS member institutions. Prof. Stéphane Udry of the University of Geneva, who hosted the event, welcomed everybody at the Observatory and introduced the two opening addresses.

Researchers have many helping hands to choose from
Elena Benedetto of the PlanetS TIP and Julien Levallois of the UniGE SIH co-chaired the second part of the event, which introduced the support platforms.

The Technology and Innovation Platform (TIP) is the PlanetS point of contact for innovation and technology-related activities. “We support PlanetS members and associates in bridging gaps between astrophysics and applications in other fields”, Elena Benedetto said. The TIP provides initial Seed Funds to explore innovative ideas, which can lead to a transfer of technology, a market opportunity, or that are high potential but also high risk and finances Externships of PlanetS researchers in industry.

Julien Levallois of the University of Geneva Science Innovation Hub, Sebastien Hug of the UniBE Innovation Office, Claudia Röösli of the University of Zurich (UZH) Innovation and UZH Space Hub, as well as Nanja Strecker of the ESA Business Incubator Center (BIC) Switzerland at ETH Zurich then spoke about their platforms.

The three Hubs are structures created quite recently with the explicit goal to help researchers in their first steps towards entrepreneurship. “We provide office space, support and a network, thereby act as “pre-incubators”, Julien Levallois explained. And Claudia Röösli added that “in these highly dynamics environments, researchers can meet fellow entrepreneurs and join events, trainings and coffee discussions”. “We are always eager to invite you to our building, discuss your ideas and help you to make them happen!” concluded Sebastien Hug.

The ESA-BIC, which supports more mature ideas, additionally provides financial, technical and business support to start-ups developing application related to space, wherever the company is located. “Currently, there are examples of early-stage companies enrolled in the program from Geneva and from Ticino.”, Strecker pointed out.

The event not only introduced the platforms that offer a helping hand in entrepreneurial endeavours, but also presented an example gone right.

A stepping-stone for things to come
Krzysztof Nienartowicz, founder of the company Sednai – known for their data analysis of the astronomical project Gaia – shared his start-up experience with the audience, explaining how he favoured what he called “an organic growth” for his company. Confronted with the choice between expanding beyond astrophysics into new markets and joining partnerships within European projects, he decided in favour of the latter. “It’s vital for small companies to create consortia to win calls and tenders”, Nienartowicz stressed.

Following the talks, the lively discussion continued over coffee. The numerous attendees and their enthusiasm showed that there is plenty of interest in learning about entrepreneurship in the field. ”I am very happy that universities now start the conversation  and create hubs to support this path” a researcher from the University of Geneva said.

The attending innovation experts shared this positive impression: “This pilot event provided an excellent occasion to reach out and start discussions that could create synergies and collaborations across Switzerland”, Strecker said. “The ideal collaborator for a researcher in Geneva with  an idea could be a student from Bern who has the interest in creating a start-up” added Levallois.

Those who missed the event need not worry: due to its success, the next edition is already in the books. It will either take place in Bern or Zurich. Stay tuned!

The event and presentation slides:

The NCCR PlanetS Technology and Innovation Platform:

The Science Innovation Hub, UniGE:

The UniBE Innovation Hub:

The UZH Innovation:

The UZH Space Hub:

The ESA Business Incubation Center:

The company Sendai:

Categories: News, Technology Platform

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