Innovation is the DNA of growth – Kaunas University of Technology (KTU)

  • 2024-05-23

University-industry collaboration has a vast potential to drive innovation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has witnessed some astonishing examples of it. Despite the restrictions, university and industry teams found ways of coming together to fast-track new projects and address the challenges.

“Not all companies need to collaborate with research, but every one of them would benefit from implementing innovation in their practices. Of course, university-industry collaboration is a must for the companies that are developing new products or services or wish to get the full picture of their internal processes,” says Mindaugas Bulota, the Head of the National Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU).

Innovation is the DNA of growth – this has been confirmed both by research and business practitioners. Studies reveal that the best companies are focusing more on innovation overall and spend more time on radical innovation. Also, they are oriented towards risk-taking and employ long-term strategies.

The above-mentioned results were drawn from responses from PDMA’s 2021 Global Best Practices Research, which investigated 651 companies in 37 countries. However, this study is not the only one claiming that innovation plays a critical role in the effectiveness of organisations. Rather often, it is pointed out that in the free market, companies will always feel compelled to innovate – if the surroundings change constantly, companies will need to adapt.

KTU – the most successful international research partner in Lithuania

European Union has been investing in research and innovation since 1984 when EU Research and Innovation Framework Programme, the first of multiannual framework programmes, was launched. Since then, KTU has attracted EUR 33.2 million of EU’s research funds. This is the best result in Lithuania.

“Although this is a significant amount of money, the main gain is not financial. As all international projects are carried out together with partners, the exchange of knowledge takes place. This ‘imported’ knowledge is transferred into the study process. In the end, the business benefits from competitive University graduates joining their teams,” says Bulota.

KTU is a leader in the Baltic states in university-industry collaboration, which takes place in different formats – from students’ visits to companies, and participation in KTU Wanted Career Days to specialised research services. The university has over 100 long-term partners who periodically participate in common activities.

According to Vilma Karoblienė, Head of the KTU Research and Innovation Project Centre, the university has connections with the leading institutions across Europe, thanks to EU research and innovation funding programmes. This increases the competitive edge of the whole country.

“One of the most impressive examples is SustAInLivWork project, funded by EU Horizon Europe and coordinated by KTU. Project aims at establishing a centre of excellence for AI-based solutions in industry, energy, health and transport. This centre will develop and promote interdisciplinary, ethical and long-term research creating cutting-edge AI based solutions responding to society’s needs for scientific products,” says Karoblienė.

International projects are great drivers for university-industry cooperation as quite often they involve companies. In such a way, industries can implement their ideas until the delivery of real products. Karoblienė provides another exceptional example of international collaboration – DNAMIC project. Together with Genomika company, KTU researchers aim to develop a stand-alone solution for archiving the data in DNA structures.

One-stop-shop for business enquiries

University-industry cooperation at KTU is facilitated by the National Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre (NIEC), a one-stop-shop to all business enquiries. Bulota, the Head of KTU NIEC says that such a system saves time and allows discovering synergies. 

“The university employs almost 2 thousand of staff; it would be nearly impossible for our customers to identify the exact person to answer their needs,” he says.

Today, one of the challenges companies need to adapt to is climate change. Although KTU works with very different industries, there is one common feature among them – usually, they seek innovation that would help developing more environmentally friendly, leaner, or more easily recyclable products. In IT solutions, those based on machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms are among the most sought after.

The Head of KTU’s NIEC lists best practice examples: smart wearable wristband, developed in collaboration between KTU biomedical engineers, health practitioners and a Lithuanian IoT company, solar technology innovations of KTU chemists, that are patented in different continents, and many others.

“The R&D services can be divided into two groups – measurements and research. In the first case, speed and reliable data is important, in the second – expert knowledge and the possibility to develop a functioning prototype. Lately, the latter option has been expanded by our new facilities, M-Lab Prototyping Centre,” says Bulota.

According to him, only 10 percent of all enquiries is from outside of Lithuania; however, their conversion from enquiry to a contract is better than that of local companies. Approximately one fourth of all revenue for services comes from the contracts with foreign companies.

“Nowadays, the market doesn’t have geographical boundaries. For example, for several years we are successfully collaborating with one Indian company. We draw a contract with them during the pandemic, entirely remotely, even without any video calls – just over emails,” says the Head of KTU NIEC.

According to him, the Centre’s greatest achievement is the team of professionals, who understand the challenges of business. University-industry collaboration can take any form – from scholarships to R&D services. The first point of contact is always KTU’s National Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre.