Trinity scales up technology to be the next Stanford
Could Trinity be the next Stanford? This is the question currently occupying the thoughts of its Dean Of Research, Prof Vinnie Cahill. He is trying to get the college to reach out a little more to the tech industry.
Adrian Weckler: You say that Trinity can do for Dublin what Stanford has done for Silicon Valley. But how much engagement with industry should a college pursue without becoming too compromised?
Professor Vinnie Cahill: It's not an 'either or' situation. There's no contradiction between excellence and engagement with stakeholders. Take Stanford. It's a world-class university, doing leading edge research. In the end we shape our own syllabus. But we're also cognisant of getting advice. This includes a dialogue on the type of skills that are important to stakeholders and employers, especially when it comes to emerging trends in industry.
AW: In practice, what does this mean?
PVC: Well, our engineering and computer science programmes now offer a five year option to a masters for professional accreditation with a built-in internship. That wouldn't have been the case in the past. We're trying to create broader skills here. That means risk-taking, autonomy, opportunities to do independent work and good internships.
AW: Speaking of longer degree run-ins, how did you react to last week's kerfuffle about The Summit's differentiation between university degrees – with a preference toward Trinity – based on their length?
PVC: Well I'm obviously convinced of the value of a four-year degree. People will have different opinions but from our perspective, having a four-year degree as a default gives students the latitude to pursue broader skills and an opportunity to do independent research projects. So we would hope that the value of a Trinity degree stands.
AW: How do you measure how the college is doing in the tech space?
PVC: One way is to look at spinouts. If you look at Trinity, about 20pc of college spinouts in recent years have come from here. Right now, there are probably around 60 companies involved, supported or active in Trinity and several are attracting significant interest from venture capital firms.
In the last two years, eight of these would have raised about €60m in venture capital funding between them."
AW: What about patents? How many do college companies or researchers file each year?
PVC: It's in the order of dozens. There's a steady pipeline. But I don't know that that's the way to judge the success of spinouts. What's important for a company is profitability, employment and an ability to grow. We only patent intellectual property in circumstances where we think there could be a significant opportunity.
AW: Trinity is very close to the so-called 'Silicon Docks'. Is there a relationship there?
PVC: What tends to happen internationally is that innovation clusters emerge and that's what we're seeing there. Most of these clusters tend to have a university at the centre of that, creating talent and attracting people into the area. Typically, that university also supports the scaling up of companies. That's the role that Trinity could play for Dublin. There's real potential for Dublin to be an innovation hub.
AW: So what happens now? How are you going to reach out more to the tech community?
PVC: Companies can commission research here or can engage in collaborative research. They can get involved with internships, which are generally handled through individual schools here. There isn't much bureaucracy involved.