The Art of Stakeholder Engagement: the Fibrenamics Community of Innovation
The idiom “one stone alone cannot grind corn” has perhaps never been more relevant than in these days of technological complexity and expanding societal demands for innovative products and technical problem-solving. Awareness of this complex socio-technical terrain drives the engaged approach to socio-economic development adopted by Fibrenamics at the University of Minho (UMinho) in Portugal. Fibrenamics is a platform that connects national and international HEIs and businesses who strive for innovation in the field of fibres and advanced materials. Emerging from the School of Engineering at UMinho, Fibrenamics aims to create, transfer, and communicate frontier knowledge from the research domain to the market, through the co-design and development of products that respond to societal challenges and stakeholder needs.
The Fibrenamics platform
In less than 6 years, Fibrenamics has transformed itself from a modest university-based research group into an international “fibre-hub” where its diverse members can engage, prepare and implement a variety of scientific and practical projects. The Fibrenamics platform currently engages with 18 national and international universities, 19 research centres, 17 technology and collaborating centres, and more than 120 companies in the course of their activities. With such a wide organisational outreach, Fibrenamics also supports an online community that provides services to its more than 1,250 members.
Fibrenamics’ fundamental research group unites researchers and academics from various fields, together with Masters and PhD students, to produce new scientific knowledge – seeking answers to profound theoretical and technical questions concerning a sustainable fibre future. These attempts underlie the development of solutions to real societal issues, in the form of innovative products designed and developed by the Fibrenamics team and its partners. The Fibrenamics applied research group involves companies directly in the implementation of these innovation projects. The applied group collaborates directly with firms to design products in terms of their functionality and to fully assess the materials and processes required.
A true innovation at Fibrenamics is the integration of a specialist technology-marketing group as the third, and equal, focus of the organisation. The technology-marketing group promotes Fibrenamics’ projects and products, and help firms to link with other Fibrenamics partners in choosing their innovation path. This includes providing a comprehensive market assessment and consultation to new contact firms. The technology marketing group is also responsible for building capacity in the fibre sector, whether this is through knowledge transfer activities, such as workshops and advanced training courses, or by encouraging the development of an innovation culture and strategy in partner SMEs. The technology marketing group also runs the online presence and social media strategy of Fibrenamics.
Motivated by success and the promise of the fibre future
The reciprocal interplay between stakeholders, thoughtfully coordinated by the Fibrenamics team, has so far resulted in 15 registered patents, more than 40 completed, and on-going projects. Two success cases provide particular validation, and continuing inspiration, for the Fibrenamics approach:
- Registered as a medical device and currently sold in 17 countries Protechdry© is an underwear designed for men and women who suffer from low impact incontinence.The product has recived very positive feedback from users, due to its durability and flexibility that allows patients to enjoy their social life, despite their medical condition.
- Another health product, Pradex, is a multifunctional sleeve designed for lymphatic sufferers and mastectomy patients with swollen or distended upper limbs. Cancer patients express satisfaction with the sleeve’s unobtrusive and natural look, whilst maintaining compression behaviour similar to traditional products.
Besides these quantifiable outcomes, the Fibrenamics team seeks to foster a vision for a better fibre future, though organising an annual conferences, and other activities. For example, the documentary TV series ‘Fibrenamics: The Extraordinary World of Fibres’ has been seen by around half a million people via multiple media platforms, and is still being watched today on YouTube.
All in all, Fibrenamics is indeed a platform that embodies connectivity. With its activities and strategies for stakeholder engagement, it exemplifies a robust model for University-Business Cooperation that fosters open innovation for a technologically advanced and sustainable model of social and economic development.
To learn more about the mechanisms, outputs, and impacts of Fibrenamics, you can find the detailed case study here.
©all rights on images used in this article belong to the University of Minho
Meet the authors
Alexandra Zinovyeva, a trainee at UIIN, is a recent graduate from Erasmus Mundus Master course in Research and Innovation in Higher Education (MaRIHE). She also holds a Bachelor of Education in Teaching Foreign Languages from East Kazakhstan State University. As a part of her bachelor and master courses, Alexandra has studied in The US, South Korea, Austria, Finland, China and Germany, and is a recipient of a number of national and international scholarships. Alexandra previously worked at private educational institutions in Kazakhstan and interned at Fulbright Commission in Finland. Her research interests revolve around topics of university entrepreneurship, university innovation management and interdisciplinary higher education.
Richard Woolley is a researcher at Ingenio (CSIC-UPV) at the Universitat Politècnica de València. He is currently collaborating with the TIK centre at the University of Oslo on the OSIRIS project, which is investigating the impact of science and research on society.
Hacer Tercanli is a recent graduate of an Erasmus Mundus Masters course, Research and Innovation in Higher Education (MARIHE), and since November 2016 a Project Officer at UIIN. Previously she has worked in public and private higher education institutions in Turkey and completed a Fulbright Master’s program in Applied Linguistics in the US. As part of her Erasmus Mundus Master Hacer studied in Austria, Finland, China and Germany. During her studies she has participated in HE development projects that involved mapping digital learning environments in Germany and facilitation of internationalization in Turkey. In addition, Hacer has also been involved in EU projects at the Science-to-Business Marketing Research Centre in Munster, Germany. Among her recent interests are university-industry cooperation and quality assurance in international joint degree programs.