“PORTUGAL AND LUXEMBOURG SHARE AN EXCITING VISION OF BECOMING THE PERFECT PLACE TO START OR SCALE NEW BUSINESS”

In a conversation with José Soares, Partnership Development Officer at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Safety, Reliability and Trust (SnT) of the University of Luxembourg, we learned a little more about the goals of the institution and how the relationship between research and companies has been fundamental to innovation in Luxembourg. Learn more.

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The University of Luxembourg stands out because of its international outlook and focus on research, and its Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT) is a big part of that. What role does SnT play?
SnT is one of three research centres at the University of Luxembourg, and our particular focus is on cutting-edge technology innovation. We believe that the best technology research comes from solving challenges that exist in the real-world, so we engage with partners in the private and public sector. Our researchers come from all over the world to work on scientific challenges with these partners. Our work together helps our partners maintain a competitive edge in the market, while it helps us push technology innovation forward in a direction that makes sense for the market. Since our launch in 2009, we have established partnerships with more than 45 organisations. We are also recognised for our scientific excellence, with the University of Luxembourg ranked 90th globally in Computer Science by the Times World University Rankings. In 11 years SnT has received four prestigious ERC grants and 80 EU/ESA projects. We concentrate on six different fields of technology innovation: Fintech, Space Systems, Autonomous Vehicles, Secure and Compliant Data Management, Cybersecurity, and Internet of Things.

Why do companies partner with SnT?
Technology disruption is now commonplace, and companies recognize the competitive advantage that innovation can give them in today’s uncertain economy. By partnering with SnT companies can gain access to cutting-edge scientific work, as well as our talent pool. Working together opens doors for them to new and emerging scientific knowledge and intellectual property, while it gives us context for our research by providing constant industry feedback. The benefits go beyond research and talent though. During the time we work together our partners are able to access our research facilities, and leverage EU and/or nationally funded research initiatives in commercial projects.
In my experience, the most productive relationships between our research teams and industry come out of long-term collaborations, rather than short one-off projects. Even though the cultures and missions of companies and a public research center like SnT can vary considerably, these long-term research partnerships create a positive feedback loop as the two parties are able to share resources that they would not otherwise have access to. We benefit as our researchers get exposure to real-world issues and commercial projects; and the company gains insights that can change their business strategy, talent to feed their success, and innovations that enable them to trailblaze a new path in their sector.

How do partnerships with certain international companies, namely Portuguese companies, fit into your research agenda?
Our focus on industrial partnerships sets us apart from other research institutions in Europe because of the real-world impact of our work. Companies from across the EU and abroad tap into our expertise to solve industrial challenges with solutions that are viable, exclusive, and scalable.
In Luxembourg, we focus on areas that are relevant to the local economy, such as fintech and space, and we play a crucial role in this ecosystem by leveraging synergies between public and private R&D investments.
When engaging with actors beyond Luxembourg our work stands out because of our commitment to academic excellence. Industrial partners come to us to access specialised equipment or data, find talent, develop new technologies, or benefit from new sources of R&D funding. In turn these international partnerships help us diversify our research, and build connections between Luxembourg and the world. For us Portugal is a compelling R&D destination because of the focus the country has on business development. There have been noticeable improvements in the recent years to create an environment that nurtures business. It is an appealing hub for foreign investment, talent, and disruptive innovation in key domains such as digitalisation, circular economy or energy efficiency. As Portugal and Luxembourg already have significant ties to each other, we see a wealth of opportunity for us to collaborate with local institutions and businesses.

How is a partnership with SnT initiated?
We see our partnerships as collaborations, investing in them as much as our partners themselves. Therefore, it is key for us to come together and identify a first project that will fulfill all our goals. These projects address a specific industry challenge and target results that will have a significant scientific value. Once we have identified that area of mutual interest, we go through an established path to partnership that covers details such as confidentiality, intellectual property, budget, and external financing.
Then the work begins, and our partnership model is defined by two elements that help us stay on course. First is a steering committee that monitors and evaluates the project, ensuring that activities remain in line with project goals. Second is our experts in Intellectual Property management who work with a partner to identify and protect research results with potential commercial value.

What was the core of SnT’s strategy to create a leading research centre?
In all of our activities we always focus on talent. We prioritise our people so that when our teams collaborate they do so at the highest level. This starts by recruiting the best Master’s students from around the world to enter our PhD programme, and attracting top scientists at the Postdoc level and beyond. We do this by providing an ideal research environment. Our research initiatives are led by respected senior scientists, and we are supported by funding from the national funding agency in Luxembourg, the FNR.
Today, SnT employs more than 300 scientists, from 62 different nationalities, including Portugal. But ensuring we have the right skills in place to meet our current and future research goals can be the most challenging. That is why we are lucky that Luxembourg is very multicultural and attractive for highly skilled professionals. Portuguese people in particular can feel quite at home in Luxembourg, since 20% of the population is Portuguese, and one in five people in the street speaks Portuguese. Of course, Portugal has a long history of well-respected universities, and it does not come as a surprise to see so much tech talent flowing to Luxembourg, as well as other countries in Europe.

Who is your most notable Portuguese researcher?
We have been fortunate to have Professor Paulo Verissimo spearhead our activities in resilient computing, cybersecurity and dependability for the past six years. Paulo is extremely well-respected in his field and while at SnT managed one of our first research groups, and held an FNR PEARL Chair. This is a prestigious Luxembourgish grant for established and internationally recognized researchers to run extensive scientific activities in the country. Paulo is now wrapping up his time with us to become the founding director of a new research centre on resilient computing and cybersecurity at a renowned university outside the European space. He was instrumental in putting SnT on the European and international research map, and we now have competitive research activities in resilience thanks to his contribution.

Portugal and Luxembourg are both focusing more and more on technological innovation, how do you see the two countries collaborating on such projects?
Portugal and Luxembourg already benefit from excellent bilateral relations, and they both share an exciting vision of becoming the perfect place to start or scale new businesses. Luxembourg, with an AAA-rated economy and focus on cutting-edge technology, offers an ideal environment for the development of any business. The country also invests in its vision, with many public and private grants for R&D activities and technology innovation. It is one of the world’s leading economies now, and professionals from more than 170 different countries make it a vibrant place to do business. Portugal is also in the limelight when it comes to technological disruption. It is committed to incubating start-ups and talent, demonstrated by the government removing obstacles to external investment.
In many ways, Portuguese companies are uniquely positioned to attract investment in Luxembourg, by fuelling public-private partnerships focused on innovation, technology and R&D.

How is the team at SnT involved in fighting the coronavirus pandemic?
The Luxembourg research community reacted rapidly to the outbreak of COVID-19 nationally in March, and SnT was part of that. We have been participating in multiple interdisciplinary projects to fight the spread of the pandemic. More than 7 European projects rely on our supercomputer’s vast computing power and storage capacities for accelerating COVID-19 research, especially data processing. We have also assisted policy makers with modelling exit strategies by developing new machine learning techniques and data science projects that focus on how to enable a sustainable economic recovery.