The University of Helsinki’s  Commercialisation Advisory Board (CAB) is a bit like the TV show Shark Tank. The CAB is trying to identify the research-based ideas with commercial potential and help them grow.

"It’s a little like that TV show, Shark Tank," says Patrick Ennis of the meetings of the University of Helsinki’s  Commercialisation Advisory Board (CAB).

Just like on television, prospective entrepreneurs come to the CAB to pitch their ideas, hoping for funding.

Similarly to the TV show, the CAB’s schedule is unfortunately very rigid. The CAB meets four times a year, and its members are, like the American Ennis, busy people. Consequently, any hopefuls pitching a research finding or method as a University-supported startup must be brief in their presentations.

"We’re trying to identify the ideas with viable business potential, and help them grow," says Ennis.

It’s not completely like on TV, though. Unlike in the show, the members of the Commercialisation Advisory Board read up on the ideas before coming to the meetings. Ennis says he studies the proposals as well as possible so he can ask the right questions.

"We’re trying to identify the ideas with viable business potential, and help them grow."

The main difference, however, is in the setting.

"The meetings of the Commercialisation Advisory Board are not like adversarial sales negotiations. We’re all on the same side. We’re trying to identify the ideas with viable business potential, and help them grow."

The rector always makes the final decision.

From kindergartens to glucose monitoring

Then what are these viable business ideas? Ennis, who has a long track record both as a scientist and as a venture capitalist, says that it all comes down to research.

"The University of Helsinki is a world-class university, and it has ideas to spare. Sometimes these ideas yield applications which could become startups."

"The commercialisation of research doesn’t always have to start from the biosciences or natural sciences. The Nordic model of kindergarten is based on academic research and has much to contribute in other countries as well."

He mentions two examples. One is a method presented at the August meeting, in which blood sugar can be measured without needles. As diabetes is becoming increasingly common, this could have a major demand.

Another example is HEI Schools, a company that is already in full swing, exporting the Finnish model of kindergartens to the world.

"The commercialisation of research doesn’t always have to start from the biosciences or natural sciences. The Nordic model of kindergarten is based on academic research and has much to contribute in other countries as well."

However, much of the research at the University has next to no commercial potential. Will a focus on commercialisation erode the esteem of such research?

"It won’t. Universities are not businesses. Their most important task is and will be teaching, with research a close second. But if a researcher has marketable competence and interest in commercialisation, it’s important that the University has the skills to support them."

University of Helsinki researchers can turn to the experts at Helsinki Innovation Services  (HIS).

The little things matter

Ennis also tries to help the University of Helsinki’s startups outside the meetings of the Commercialisation Advisory Board. He emphasises that he’s always reachable by email and phone between meetings.

One important form of support is introducing the prospective entrepreneurs to the right people. During the morning of the interview, Ennis had met with representatives from HEI Schools to suggest people to contact in regards to a potential expansion to the US market.

In addition to contacts, Ennis can provide advice on how to make a pitch to investors, from the overall message to the smaller details. Such as page numbers.

"The little things matter. It’s astounding how often marketing material has no page numbers. It’s much more difficult to ask specific questions or make notes without them. Investors are often busy people, so try to make things easy for them. Remember the page numbers," Ennis states.

Further information about the Commercialisation Advisory Board and the University’s financial decision-making.

Helsinki Innovation Services

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