KU Leuven in Belgium is such a pinnacle of entrepreneurial success that it topped the Reuters list of Europe’s most innovative universities for four years in a row. It was ranked seventh on the worldwide list and first among non-American institutions on the list. Yet it was no easy ride getting their academics to buy into the idea of commercialising their research, Dr Martin Hinoul said.

Dr Hinoul (right), KU Leuven Research & Development’s former Business Development Manager and now its advisor, who has written 14 books and gives lectures all over the world, was addressing senior executives from South African universities at the Executive Leadership Workshop (ELW) on Commercialisation of Research in Cape Town last week. Universities South Africa’s Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) hosted the workshop, which was sponsored by British Council.

Speaking virtually from Leuven, Hinoul – who has a PhD in physics and a postgraduate degree in business administration from the Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven’s former name); has completed postdoctoral research at the Stanford University, M.I.T., and several other laboratories in Europe, the U.S. and Japan and holds an honorary doctorate from the Durban University of Technology – said the academics laughed at him when he suggested they register patents and create spin-off companies. “They couldn’t even write the word spin-off,” he said, exaggerating to emphasise their resistance.