4 - Services, advice and consultancy

4.6 - Organising permanent interactive forums: LabTours and IdeasLab


There are two key problems which limit the amount of collaboration between companies and Universities. Firstly, the difficulty of finding a research group which meets the company’s requirements (in terms of both skills and knowledge as well as infrastructure and R&D facilities), and secondly, the obstacles to creating mutual trust in order to establish permanent interaction.

In order to solve these problems we propose the organisation of stable interactive initiatives between business and researchers which permit more personal contact.


Below are two examples of initiatives to link businesses and researchers which offer advice on the process of seeking out a suitable research team (with the necessary capabilities and resources) and the unification of interests: LabTour and IdeasLab.


Focuses on companies making regular visits to University facilities. During these tours companies can check a laboratory’s capacity or level of resources whilst starting to discuss various aspects of possible projects with researchers.

 In the same way, in a situation when a company has facilities which are of interest to a university it would be the research team who carry out visits to check on issues such as the capacity of the company’s infrastructures.

Depending on the situation, LabTours could bring together a variety of agents from the fields of Business or Research, whereas others are attended only by representatives from the academic world or by a number of different companies with similar or complementary interests.

In general, it is preferable that the LabTour event is not overly restrictive and takes place in a relatively informal atmosphere so that the various participants from the different fields can interact in as natural a manner as possible.


Once the initial contact is made through the Labtour, if the researchers and companies are compatible, the next step is to organise a more formal meeting to establish the foundations and more concrete aims of the joint project.

As such, IdeasLab, complementing Labtour, has already been implemented by universities such as ETH Zurich, and adopted by organisations such as the World Economic Forum. This forum is based on organising workshops in order to discuss ideas concerning pre-established subjects, from fairly broad based general sectorial topics to those of a much more specific nature.

The objective is to bring together groups of businesses representatives and scientists with the aim of developing new ideas for specific projects and encouraging the two parties to work together in collaboration.

The companies would then select a project and research group (a tailor-made team) in order to begin working together immediately. In this way, as well as establishing the basis for carrying out new projects, working networks with common interests often emerge which lead to long-term professional relationships (e.g. The agreement between ETH and Siemens for the next five years, through the creation of a university chair in Sustainable Building Technologies).

Implementation process

Agents required for implementation

This recommendation could be implemented by a single company or a group of companies which decide to participate in this type of activity. Equally, companies, organised in sectorial groups, could suggest this recommendation to universities, so as to encourage them to collaborate in implementing these types of initiatives.

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  1. Interview with Ms. Debrincat, from the CD2E organisation, Nord-Pas de Calais.
  2. Example of IdeasLab file organissed by the World Economic Forum: http://www.weforum.org/en/knowledge/Events/2010/AnnualMeeting
  3. Example of a LabTour organised by a Business (IBM): : http://www.amp.ethz.ch/events/IBM
  4. Example of a LabTour organised by a University: http://www.amp.ethz.ch/events/labtour
  5. http://www.ethz.ch/index_EN - ETH Zürich. ETH Transfer Zurich Industrial Relations Program.
  6. http://www.ethlife.ethz.ch/archive_articles/090309_idealab_per/index ETH Zurich Industrial Relations Program. Ideas Lab.