[Image: Photonics21]

In an effort to help bridge the “valley of death” between technology development in academia and products in the proverbial real world, the European technology platform Photonics21 is highlighting a new project, ACTPHAST 4R, designed to improve academic researchers’ access to tools and expert advice on the transition from lab to commercialization.

The new “innovation hub”—an extension of ACTPHAST 4.0, a similar incubator for small and medium-sized enterprises—specifically aims at shepherding researchers through Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) 3 and 4. That’s the applied-research/demo stage that represents the transition between fundamental research (TRL 1–2) and advanced prototyping (TRL 5–6), and that’s generally viewed as a key stumbling block in moving promising ideas out of the lab.

Between 2019 and 2022, ACTPHAST 4R’s operators expect to provide 800 European researchers with “access to expert coaching” on prototype development and deployment from a panel of “200 top photonics experts.” At least 100 of the researchers will be selected for a deeper dive, including enhanced innovation support to build their demonstrations.

Access to the complete supply chain

ACTPHAST stands for “Access CenTer for PHotonics innovAtion Solutions and Technology Support.” The original incarnation, ACTPHAST 4.0, is a Horizon 2020–funded project that provides SMEs with access to expertise and a range of facilities and development platforms at 23 European research facilities, to give the SMEs a leg up on fleshing out system designs and getting to working prototypes.

ACTPHAST 4R (“for Researchers”), with €6 million in funding through 2020, extends the concept to the academic research community. The program offers access to 24 of “Europe’s top photonics competence centers,” with an eye toward giving researchers points of entry into the complete supply chain, from design to packaging. The program also has a strong “workshop” vibe, with an emphasis on internships, hands-on training and “intensive entrepreneurial coaching” for academic researchers aiming to launch into commercial ventures.

Targeting jobs, IP and VC

As to impact metrics, the organizers of ACTPHAST 4R believe the program’s activities will create “50 high-tech jobs in new spin-out companies,” spur dozens of patent applications and other IP developments, and “help to generate €15 million in new venture capital.”

“We offer services that are unique for turning research into real products,” Hugo Thienpont, the managing director of the Brussels Photonics Team at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium (where the project is being coordinated), said in a press release. “With an average ‘incubation’ time of six months per project, we expect that ACTPHAST 4R will accelerate the development of new applications, enterprises and jobs, and the diffusion of innovation for the betterment of society in Europe and beyond.”