The University of Zurich (UZH) may have an impressive past in which Nobel Prize winners changed the world, but now more than ever its research is being transformed into innovations that are present on the market – whether as spin-offs or by cooperating with industry.

UZH researcher Daniela Marino can take a small piece of skin and use it to biotechnologically produce a much larger piece of skin for burn victims. CEO of the spin-off CUTISS since 2017, Marino spent eight years researching the concept – and many costly tests still lie ahead before the invention can become an actual product.

This is a long road that cannot easily be covered by a company’s own resources, which is where the UZH Life Sciences Fund comes in: It has been supporting CUTISS AG with one million francs since 2018, giving the company much-needed time to grow.

Over the past 20 years, more than 100 spin-offs have been established at UZH. In addition, over 300 license agreements enable companies to benefit from UZH inventions.

“We believe it is an important task for the university to support this development and act as a bridge between research, society and the economy,” says Maria Olivares, head of UZH Innovation.

Support in all phases

The UZH Innovation Hub brings together everything that is needed to move from research to the market, and this is much more than just money. “We offer a launch pad for innovations in all development phases,” explains Olivares. For instance, students can participate in an Innovator’s Camp or receive business coaching, while Unitectra – UZH’s transfer office – negotiates research contracts, coordinates patent applications and helps in the search for license companies.

UZH Entrepreneur Fellowships in biotech and medtech provide financial assistance and help individual entrepreneurs, a focus that has a long tradition at UZH through its partnership with the University Hospital Zurich. This is reflected in the start-ups: two thirds of all UZH spin-offs deal with biotech or medtech.

Exploiting the potential of the university

UZH supports innovations in three main areas. There is biomedicine and life sciences, long the preferred areas, but aerospace has since caught up to become an important focus area. The UZH Space Hub cooperates closely with the Zurich Innovation Park at the Dübendorf airfield, which also happens to be where UZH carries out parabolic flights every year. Commercial partners can also participate in these flights – a unique model worth its weight in gold for companies.

The third focus is digitalization. This is where the potential of Switzerland’s largest university can be fully exploited, where ethicists can cooperate with economists, big data experts or physicians, for example. Eighteen new professorships were created for this interdisciplinary field at the end of 2018, making it possible to explore even further and in even greater detail what digitalization might achieve. And the support needed to translate research results into practical applications is never far away at UZH.

Text: Yvonne von Hunnius

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