I'ts a matter of size

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A visit to ESRF and ILL: learning from past experience

The ESRF synchrotron and ILL neutron source are the already long-running Grenoble homologues of MAX IV and ESS. A delegation from the Øresund region with representatives from universities, industry and the innovation system combined a visit in April to these two facilities with a European Enterprise Network event at the MINATEC innovation campus.

Started in 2002, MINATEC is an innovation campus for micro and nanotechnology, spanning education, research and industry. The facilities have 10 000 m2 of cleanrooms – and one clean room on rail! – and engage 4 400 persons.

Despite of its size and 350 million euro per year budget, MINATEC is only a brand and not a legal entity. It produces about 3-5 startups annually and comprise actors from research, education and industry. The local and regional authorities provide the infrastructure and buildings. A total of 1.3 billion euro has been invested over 10 years of time.

One of the campus partners is LITEN, a micro- and nanomanufacturing platform on energy applications, nanomaterials and transport where 850 persons work with open innovation with financial support from the French government. LITEN runs a very attractive, fun and interactive showroom which displays research applications, in order to create an interest in and understanding of the work.

France’s second largest competitive cluster fosters competition and cooperation – coopetition. With a membership of 189 companies, the association is funded by membership fees and public means. The six employees analyse project ideas and assemble consortia of at least two industrial and one research partner.

In its five years of existence MINALOGIC has initiated 155 projects which have been funded, with a collective budget of 1.7 billion euro (both from EU and from national funding). Only companies that can devote three working days per year are advised to join, as the association wants no sleeping members.

European Enterprise Network
Organizer of this MINATEC visit, the European Enterprise Network, EEN, helps SMEs search for funding, make focused partnership searches, solve IPR issues etc.

65 parties from different parts of Europe participated in a matchmaking session and in face-to-face meetings organized by the EEN Nano and Microtechnology (MNT) sector group. The one minute business pitches were popular, but participants could have focused more on why they were at the event, i.e. what type of cooperation they were looking for. We also came away with an impression that there were many sellers, but a lack of buyers.

Christian Vettier, one of the hosts at ESRF, headed the scientific work at ESS during three years. He explained that the X-ray beam-lines of ESRF and the neutron beam-lines of ILL are complementary; depending on the size and kind of samples analyzed they supply complementary information.

Both ESRF and ILL explore ways to strengthen academia-business cooperation and to attract more companies to the sites. A one-stop-shop concept is being launched, as companies need support in finding the right researchers and facilities.

Companies can choose to pay for beam-time (proprietary access), and keep their results confidential, or go through a peer-review selection process for free beam-time (non-proprietary access). In the latter, the results are public. The proprietary access today amounts to less than 5 % of the total beam-time at ESRF.

Remote access, Synchrotrone@home, makes it possible to for companies to perform experiments from their home desks, with the support of the Grenoble technicians. The pharmaceutical industry is particularly interested in this work method. On the other hand, there are also many companies that are interested in buying all-inclusive packages, also including evaluation of the data.

To persuade scientists to cooperate with the private sector and to encourage businesses to use peer-reviewed beam-time are challenges facing the business development team. By tradition, both ILL and ESRF are driven by the advancement of science primarily and there is currently a limit of maximum 10 percent of the beam-time being assigned to proprietary beam-time.

Today, the ESRF business development activities involve proactively seeking industrial R&D partners and involvement in the national centers of industrial excellence. A certain envy of MAX IV and ESS being able to build up ties between industry and academia from the start could be traced.

Text and photos: Johan Borgström and Lina Löfmark

Chalmers University of Technology DTU Imego Lund University