Commercial Champions commercialise research innovations

Commercial champions are commercialisation specialists responsible, together with technology transfer company Helsinki Innovation Services Ltd, for preparing the commercialisation of projects receiving Research to Business funding from Business Finland at the University of Helsinki.

Research to Business funding is a funding instrument offered by Business Finland for Finnish research projects whose inventions demonstrate preliminary practicality and commercial potential. The funding promotes preparation for the commercialisation of new science-based innovations, with the aim of producing growth businesses in Finland that generate jobs and export income. In addition to the research group, each Research to Business project employs a Commercial Champion.

Today, individual Research to Business projects have a total budget of up to €700,000 and a duration of one to two years. Business Finland covers 70% of the approved project costs. The projects comprise two elements: research and commercialisation. A minimum of 40% of project funds must be allocated to the latter, leaving at most 60% available for the former. The central goal of these projects is to identify optimal commercialisation routes for research findings. Business Finland requires that every project involves a team member focusing solely on commercialisation with relevant market familiarity and expertise to operate at the intersection of research and the commercial market. Expertise in business activities is considered an asset.

Commercial Champions support the establishment of a company and act as experts in business models

As their name suggests, Commercial Champions oversee preparations for commercialisation in Research to Business projects, enabling research staff to focus on research. According to Business Finland, such preparations can include examining research ideas from the perspective of commercialisation, determining customer value and conducting market research, surveying competing solutions and demonstrating the feasibility of ideas (proof of concept), as well as discussing piloting opportunities with potential customers. Often, a key part of commercialisation preparations is protecting technology with patents.

In practice, Commercial Champions also consider the appropriateness of various funding and business models for specific solutions, mapping out potential customers, funders, and investors. Another goal of commercial champions and Helsinki Innovation Services is to advance research teams’ capabilities towards the establishment of businesses. Commercial 'Champions usually work on a project for a fixed term, either for the duration or as part-time employees at the outset, transitioning to full-time team members as the project progresses.

Many Research to Business projects at the University conclude in a decision to establish a business, namely a spinout, where Commercial Champions may continue to commercialise the technical solution in question, as part of the other founding team of the company. Typically, these businesses recruit an external managing director, in addition to which the team needed for operations is assembled from the Research to Business project and research group.

When a research group decides to apply for Research to Business funding, Helsinki Innovation Services Ltd helps in drawing up the application and shaping the idea, as well as in finding a suitable champion. Currently, there are some 18 Research to Business projects ongoing at the University of Helsinki, each employing a commercial champion.

Harriet Gullstén, head of the innovation ecosystem in Viikki, and Kajsa Kajander, Interim CEO of Helsinki Innovation Services Ltd, have organised “CC Coffee” meetings for commercialisation specialists in 2023. At these morning sessions, the specialists gain experiences, tips, and peer support from former champions and from one another, as well as new perspectives and development ideas from visiting experts of various fields.