As such, creating strong connections and efficient channels of communication and knowledge exchange between food scientists and food producers is an important target of the Refresh project hosted by the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Olsztyn.
“One of the most satisfying achievements of the project has been the creation of the Research Support Office (RSO) which opened in January 2011,” says Dr Mariusz Piskula, the project’s coordinator. “This office actively endeavours to establish contacts with businesses, particularly SMEs in the food industry – seeking knowledge transfer, patenting and copyrighting opportunities.”
According to Dr Piskula, the establishment of the RSO has significantly simplified the management and coordination of Refresh and other projects and opened up the potential for the successful application and running of EU-funded FP7 projects. Among other duties, the RSO is responsible for seeking new opportunities and supporting more effective applications for research projects under FP7. The office has already achieved positive results.
“Within a year of its activity, the RSO successfully generated two new projects on lab instrumentation and human capital, worth almost €1 million, and assisted in the preparation of the project on obesity, worth over €1.6 million, thus increasing the capacity of the Institute and research capabilities of its staff,” he says.
One of the main objectives of the project in regard to harnessing regional potential is the promotion of the Institute’s expertise and dissemination of good practices in food research among regional institutions, such as universities, scientific units, businesses and NGOs. The main objective here is to support the sustainable development of the region of Warmia and Mazury.
“One of the most salient developments that has already taken place is reflected in the improvements made in the aspect of communication and co-operation within the Warmia and Mazury Province,” Dr Piskula continues. “This is, after all, a project with regional development at its heart. Thanks to our enhanced outreach ability, we now have a much better connection with local businesses and regional authorities. This, in time, will boost the number and range of science-industry co-operation initiatives in the region.”
In a bid to provide the best support and expertise possible for the increasing numbers of regional partners, the Refresh project has dedicated most of the EU funding to increasing capacity, upgrading infrastructure and establishing partnerships. It has also been used to attract additional high-quality staff.
“The EU funding has allowed us to pay competitive salaries and attract six external experts: three from the United States, two from elsewhere in Poland, and one from Russia,” Dr Piskula explains.
“The employment of top-class international researchers is a very important part of the project and cannot be underestimated,” he adds. “We have witnessed a rapid increase in the employment of staff, including experienced researchers who immediately contributed to the strengthening of the Institute’s potential.”
EU funds were also used to buy new and advanced equipment, as well as to set up a staff-exchange programme which involved 13 European partner institutions and one in Israel. As a result, studies being conducted in the institute are becoming more focused on the protection of the health status of humans and animals, as well as on the investigation of reproductive problems and metabolic disorders.
The process of internationalisation was also improved through the institute’s increased ability to send its own experts to conferences outside Poland. In addition, participation in conferences, seminars and workshops has inspired the institute to organise its own programme of EU-level events.
“We’re looking to organise three conferences in 2013, with a focus on our growing involvement in the fields of food, health and reproductive biology,” Dr Piskula concludes.