A*STAR To Commercialize Technologies On Marblar Crowdsourcing Platform

A*STAR’s technology transfer unit has partnered with the online crowdsourcing platform, Marblar, to commercialize its most promising technologies.

AsianScientist (Jul. 3, 2013) – Singapore has the largest per capita investment on science and technology in the world, with a budget of over S$16 billion (US$12.5 billion) allocated for research investment from 2011 to 2015.

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is the lead agency catalyzing this world-class research across the sciences in Singapore, and among the fruits of its research is an ever-growing patent portfolio that now numbers in the thousands. ETPL, its technology transfer arm, has been furiously busy identifying market opportunities for these innovations, a task that requires a huge amount of effort and expert knowledge.

But a large portfolio of patents is expensive and difficult to manage, and the problem is compounded when the technology never becomes commercialized, which is the fate for the vast majority of technologies globally coming from universities and government research institutes.

Often this is because the path to market for such cutting edge technology is not obvious, and with only a handful of people trying to commercialize them – typically just the inventors and the technology transfer office, it’s not hard to see why so many never reach their potential. This tunnel vision is problematic as a materials scientist may not realize his or her invention might solve a problem in the life sciences.

To help spur the commercialization of their portfolio, ETPL and A*STAR have turned to the crowd to help them find new market problems their technology could solve. To that end, they are posting their technology on an online community science site, Marblar, allowing the world to suggest novel ways the technology could be turned into products.

Founded at Oxford University, the UK-based Marblar platform uses challenge-driven innovation to find market applications for emerging and existing technology. The company posts technologies as a challenge, and allows anyone from around the world to compete and collaborate towards re-imagining how it might be applied.

Since launching six months ago, nearly 10,000 people from around the world have joined, collectively collaborating on over 1,200 new market applications.

Co-founder Dan Perez explained the inspiration behind creating Marblar:

“My co-founders and I are all life scientists. As a PhD student at Oxford, I witnessed firsthand that a load of technology and research developed never got commercialized – often because the application wasn’t so obvious. And when that’s the case, the technology lies fallow and just gathers dust – never taking off. Our thoughts were, why not bring more voices into the conversation, and allow more people to chew on the idea?”

Each competition lasts for seven weeks and is broken into two stages: the brainstorming phase, where anyone can submit new product ideas; and the refinement phase, where shortlisted ideas are fleshed out by the network with additional market data and technical details.

Participants are rewarded with online points and trophies (marbles – hence the name), and can build on each other’s ideas. The winner will receive a US$1,000 prize and a chance for their idea to become a commercial product.

Marblar challenges have received a notable response so far with over 100 countries being involved and the inventors receiving a huge number of applications for their technologies. One of the latest post-competition developments has been with a compact, handheld spectrometer, originally invented for use on Mars. The competition produced over fifty market applications ranging from oil exploration to health care. The winning idea was as a breath analysis tool to diagnose liver disease in the clinic – an application about as far removed from Mars as they come! Such end-points demonstrate there is a clear opportunity to find novel and lateral commercial applications for technologies by engaging a global pool via the Marblar platform.

The recent partnership between Marblar and ETPL will help kick-start the commercialization of several of A*STAR’s most promising technologies, with ETPL placing six technologies on Marblar over the coming months.

Chee Kim-Wuim, a commercialization manager at ETPL, expressed why A*STAR is looking forward to a future with Marblar:

“We look forward to our partnership with Marblar that would allow us to access a wide and diverse talent pool from a global academic and industry community, which we hope to uncover new market applications, gain further exposure, and create a realizable impact with A*STAR technology.”

Last week, A*STAR’s first competition was launched on Marblar featuring a microfluidic mixing device designed by Huanming Xia and colleagues at the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech). The microfluidic mixer is a non-powered device that can be added in-line to convert laminar flow to oscillatory flow, achieving effective mixing in milliseconds. Ordinarily, laminar flow behavior at these scales means fluid streams only mix very slowly via diffusion, which has been a big limitation for development of microfluidic products.

Since the launch of the competition, the Marblar community has constantly been providing ideas and discussion, with suggestions for applications that range from DNA hybridization arrays to 3D printing.

Over the next two months, the mixer inventors and the Marblar community will continue to assemble and develop ideas. Two thirds of the way through, the inventors will shortlist finalists for further refinement, from which they will then pick the winner.

Daniel Bayley is an undergraduate student at University College London and a technology analyst and strategist at Marblar.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine. Photo: Marblar.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Daniel Bayley is an undergraduate student at University College London, UK and a technology analyst and strategist at Marblar.

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