Written by Hannah LaCava
Great minds think alike, or so the saying goes. But at NC State, great minds are encouraged to collaborate and share their different perspectives.
In October, NC State hosted a two-day workshop to celebrate the partnership between NC State, Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie (VIB) and many agricultural and life sciences industries in Research Triangle Park. The event offered both closed and open sessions in which industries discussed ways companies could succeed together to transcend scientific disciplines, focusing on what they could do together that they couldn’t do apart.
VIB, a life sciences research institute in Flanders, Belgium, first partnered with NC State at the beginning of last year through a plant science partnership. Johan Cardoen, managing director of VIB, said he was interested in seeing what the institutions could learn from each other.
“I think it would be great if we could demonstrate we are combining strengths,” Cardoen said.
The first VIB and NC State collaborative workshop occurred this past year in May. NC State researchers travelled to Belgium to “begin creating opportunities for collaboration that lead to sustainable, affordable approaches to feed the world’s growing population,” according to CALS’ director of research partnerships, Dr. Deborah Thompson.
This most recent workshop included a brainstorming session led by Dr. Susanne Kjemtrup, principal, Phyta BioTech Consulting, LLC. Employees from NC State, VIB and other major agricultural industries discussed possible new outcomes of partnership ideas, and they addressed such topics as education, areas of focus, and new companies.
“I thought it made a lot of sense to have people with an eagle-eye view to think with the structure of what this workshop and partnership could be,” Kjemtrup said. “Engagement was really impressive.”
The first morning consisted of concurrent sessions—one related to brainstorming scientific research and the other research implementation. Out of the latter, industries focused on leadership and outcomes of potential research opportunities. Discussion topics included ways to close the gap between lab work and fieldwork, education opportunities and data integration. Establishing a solvable problem captured a large portion of the discussion and resulted in ideas like startups and social engagement.
Other sessions within the two-day event encouraged implementation and collaboration of current research between industries. Panelists were asked to share their thoughts on entrepreneurship and later engaged in faculty-presented research. One of the main discussion topics in the entrepreneurship session was how industries and researchers could best help one another.
“Entrepreneurship is being able to see the fit of an idea,” said Rick DeRose from Syngenta, “and being able to champion it in the company.”
The North Carolina Biotechnology Center provided some support for the workshop in the form of a Biotechnology Event Sponsorship.
“Our mission is to create a global life science community, which is exactly what’s going on here,” said Scott Johnson, vice president of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s Agricultural Initiative. “We want to help assist in global tech innovation.”
The “three-way partnership” between NC State, VIB and Research Triangle agriculture and life sciences is unusual, but has great potential and is working well according to Dr. Steve Lommel, CALS’ associate dean for research. VIB’s department director, Dirk Inzé, said the workshop gave him a greater understanding of NC State.
“I think the whole teams are getting close to each other, learning,” Inzé said. “We live in different ecosystems. We have to learn to work together. Jointly, we should be able to do something.”
Between NC State’s “think and do” mentality and VIB’s “excellence-based entrepreneurial institute,” that particular “something” could be right around the corner. NC State continues to work with VIB and will meet once again in the spring of 2018.