For universities, there are a number of interesting opportunities to play a prominent role in the innovation process. In addition to the proven science park model, there exists an attractive alternative. In this alternative a visionary university team of scientists conduct fundamental research for a consortium of international companies. These companies do not communicate via an office at the university campus (they are located geographically everywhere), but they form a platform around a new capability that is of great strategic importance for their future.
Led by scientists at the Technical University of Delft (‘Delphi team’), ca. 30 international companies in the geo-energy sector finance together new options in the field of geophysical imaging. Advanced geophysical imaging is vital for the exploration and production of minerals: with modern geo-imaging technology it is possible to look into the earth at large depths, making the complex geological structures visible and showing the composition and properties of rocks in great detail.
The Delphi research is not only important for mineral extraction. Better understanding of the complex dynamic processes in the Earth – think at earthquakes and volcanic eruptions – is also of significant importance for society as a whole. In particular, geological layering represents an impressive archive that reveals the changing natural environment on planet Earth over millions of years. It is expected that the geo-sciences will play a key role in the research on climate change, revealing the many big changes in the earth’s climate in the past.
The Delphi Consortium, founded in 1982 by professor Guus Berkhout, provides participating companies insight into the world of the latest technological opportunities in the field of big data seismic imaging. The Delft research group focuses on the major bottlenecks that all companies have in common. Therefore, the research is fundamental and forward-looking (‘strategic fundamental’). Specific problems of individual companies are not covered. The research findings – being distributed in the form of algorithms – are pre-competitive and are used by all participating companies to update their vision of the future. In addition, the Delphi algorithms function as an enabling ‘technology platform’ for the renewal of their products and services portfolio. Delphi creates options for the future. The participating companies make their own choices about what they do with those options.
Delphi is not aiming for intellectual property; that is a well thought-out choice. The interaction with the researchers of the international business is considered to be of far greater value than any possible net revenue that may be received from IP.
The research strategy of Delphi is based on the Circular Innovation Model (CIM). In this model, the role of scientific research in modern society is positioned in a novel way: scientists are assumed to give an essential contribution to the solution of the big issues the public and private society is facing. This means that scientific models must also create an added value to society. In Delphi the timely collection of early transition signals on emerging issues (common problems and opportunities) is vital for its scientific agenda. In this way the research is and stays of interest to the members. The Delphi business model (member fees) shows that large amounts of funds are available in international business for strategic-fundamental research: "who combines the right topics with excellent science, has no financial worries".