"Suddenly, the innovations are there, and then you have to seize them."

Published: 25 February 2022

Text: Newslab

Photo: Angelique Culvin-Riccot

Oslo Science Park is now gearing up to make it easier for researchers and students to bring their ideas into the world.

"The culture of innovation at the University of Oslo is being strengthened," says Hilde Nebb.

 As the head of the newly established UiO: Growth House, Nebb emphasizes that the aim is to facilitate researchers and students in advancing their potentially groundbreaking ideas from the conceptual stage, getting them closer to commercial innovation environments and the business world.

Together with dScience, the university's new center for data and computational science, the Growth House is at the forefront of an initiative at the University of Oslo that aims to transform Oslo Science Park into an even more comprehensive ecosystem for innovation, where academia and industry can converge.

While research conducted at the University of Oslo already contributes to both innovation and job creation, the hope is that the dynamics and pace of these processes will increase when they occur more extensively in the business sphere.

The goal is to develop the culture and mindset around innovation so that the University of Oslo becomes an even more significant player in societal development.

Hilde Nebb, head of UiO: Growth House

"UiO has unrealized potential," says computer science professor Morten Dæhlen, who heads dScience.

"Society provides funding for research, and there is an expectation that knowledge will be put to use. Previously, we outsourced much of this work to others, but we see that we lose something in the process – the premises are not always aligned with the research. So, we have to make an effort ourselves to achieve this. That's the task of the Growth House."

Knowledge transfer

Both the Growth House and dScience focus on interdisciplinary collaboration. dScience promotes fundamental, long-term research in collaboration with industry and society in the field of data and computational science. The Growth House, on the other hand, is dedicated to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship through the collaboration between academia and industry.

Within data and computational science, dScience has a particular focus on machine learning, artificial intelligence, digital twin technology, and knowledge representation. dScience collaborates with both businesses and public sector entities, including Oslo University Hospital.

"The opportunities are numerous, and, for example, we are exploring the potential use of artificial intelligence in hospital planning," says Dæhlen.

In these types of projects, innovative ideas can emerge that can be further developed into new solutions with broader applications than the original purpose.

"It is challenging to plan for innovations before they happen, but suddenly they are there, and then you have to seize them. You need someone who can see all the pieces before the idea can be taken to the market. Will the people behind it succeed? Can they attract investors? Will anyone buy the product? This is where the Growth House can assist us in the early stages."

Aiming for low-threshold support

While there are already support systems available for ideas that have progressed significantly, the goal now is to create a low-threshold offering that is easier to access in the early stages of the process.

"We want to be an open door for researchers and students, so they feel they receive assistance when they bring their ideas," says Nebb.

"Sometimes there is an idea that can quickly be brought to the market, while other ideas need more maturing. In such cases, we can provide tailored guidance to the researcher, offer seed funding, and bring in mentors from the business world to provide the necessary network for further work. We are also establishing meeting places for businesses, researchers, and startups here in Oslo Science Park– people who have already gone through this process."

With its business clusters, startups, accelerators, incubators, and technology transfer office Inven2, both Nebb and Dæhlen see Oslo Science Park as an excellent ecosystem for major initiatives.

"The culture represented by Oslo Science Park gives us added value and expertise that our academic communities can utilize," says Nebb.

They also highlight the central location of the Park and its position within Oslo Science City, the city's innovation district, as essential factors. The proximity to key collaborators such as SINTEF and Oslo University Hospital is also crucial.

"Oslo Science Park was specifically built to create these types of arenas," says Dæhlen.

"While other parts of Blindern may be somewhat tucked away, this area is easily accessible, especially by subway."

"Look to UiO"

The initiative in Oslo Science Park and Oslo Science City is still in its early stages, but similar projects in other parts of the world indicate significant potential.

Oslo Science City has drawn inspiration from innovation districts such as White City in London and Kendall Square in Boston. Additionally, dScience has taken inspiration from other centers like the Alan Turing Institute in London and the Swedish eScience Research Centre in the Stockholm region.

Morten Dæhlen, head of dScience - Centre for Computational and Data Science

However, Dæhlen and Nebb are clear that they do not want the Growth House and dScience to be mere replicas of existing initiatives elsewhere.

"You can't simply transplant foreign concepts to Norway," says Dæhlen.

"We have to adapt to the Norwegian reality – economically, culturally, and socially."

Nebb emphasizes that the goal going forward is not to change the nature of the universities.

"In a few years, when we have become even better at innovation, it should still be closely linked to our important primary tasks, which are conducting fundamental long-term research, educating the workforce of tomorrow, and disseminating new knowledge to society."

For Dæhlen, the task is to further develop Oslo's position as an internationally leading university in the field of data and computational science.

"In ten years, I hope the world will say, 'Look to UiO.' We are not there yet today, and we know that it is challenging to achieve. But if we do the right things, I believe we will succeed."