Understand What You've Been Missing
Fresh New Thoughts About Technology-push Innovation
If the University system were functioning properly, 87% of graduated PhDs would be discouraged from pursuing postdoctoral research and instead be directed and supported (with $$$) to create startups.
Let's talk about the remaining 13%. In my view, these 13% should be the best PhDs, according to the current criteria (i.e. those with one or more high-impact factor publications). The world needs elite researchers, but we also need practical solutions to major problems.
You may wonder "What would be the goal of such a radical policy"?
The TTO - Technology Transfer Office - is responsible for technology transfer and other aspects of the commercialization of research that takes place in a University. It engages in a variety of commercial activities that are meant to facilitate the process of bringing research to the market. These activities include patenting, and licensing to big corporations or spin-off startups.
But often, most discoveries end up sleeping in their drawers, never seeing the light of day and collecting dust.
Imagine if those 87% of PhDs were redirected to create startups focused on turning these discoveries into real-world applications.
But what about the Academic world? Well, with only the top 13% of PhDs continuing in Academia, the quality of research would likely improve. These elite researchers would have the time and resources to focus on tackling ambitious questions.
In essence, this shift in focus would create a win-win situation: Universities would benefit from more efficient use of their Intellectual Property, while PhD graduates would have better career prospects and contribute to solving critical global challenges.
So, why isn't this happening yet? There's a need for a cultural shift within Academia, as well as support from policymakers and funding bodies.
We need all together to say STOP to the endless growth of mediocre scientific research and call for a massive reorientation in favour of STEM startup creation.
An old article (2012) - still relevant - published in my now abandoned blog where I explained why TTOs can't be performant organisations even if they wanted to:
SCIENTISTS SHOULD HAVE A BUSINESS EDUCATION AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE
The missions of Universities are:
- Research and knowledge production
- Knowledge transmission through the publication of scientific articles and teaching to students and to professionals by continuing education programs
- Professionalisation of students (the goal is to enhance their employability)
- The commercialization of scientific discoveries, unique know-how and technologies developed by academic researchers
The commercialization of scientific discoveries, unique know-how and technologies developed by academic researchers can be favoured by 3 axes:
- Research as a Service (RaaS also called Business-to-Science): Academic labs can offer their service to companies wishing to outsource cutting-edge research and unique know-how
- Technology-Transfer (Science-to-Business): Licensing of patents or unique know-how to companies (=> money back to University and researchers by royalties)
- Technology-Transfer by Entrepreneurship (Science-to-Business): favouring the foundation of spin-off startups fully dedicated to develop and commercialise the innovative technology coming from the scientific research
Universities have usually an intern department or even a spin-off company with a staff fully dedicated to supporting the commercialization of scientific discoveries (an IP management department or company and/or a startup incubator).
The mission of such a department/company is to detect as early as possible the commercial potential of scientific discoveries in academic labs.
But it's a very difficult mission!
First, due to the diversity of scientific fields:
Formal sciences (logic, mathematics, theoretical computer science, information theory, information science, game theory, systems theory, statistics, ...), natural sciences (astronomy, and physical sciences, chemical sciences, life sciences, earth sciences), applied sciences and engineering and the last but not the least, healthcare sciences (medicine, veterinary medicine, pharmaceutical sciences and pharmacy ...).
How the management team of the IP-department/company or startup incubator could seriously have the skills, scientific knowledge, business and market understanding in all of these fields?
It is just impossible!
Second, due to scientists themselves.
Academic scientists are very smart and brilliant people, of course, people having followed a very hard and demanding education in science. But they usually do not get anything about economics, business administration and development, corporate finance and accountancy, corporate strategy, strategic marketing, people management, operational marketing and sales. Worst, they even do not have any knowledge of competitive intelligence and Intellectual and Industrial Property!
Therefore, the commercial potential of scientific discoveries is totally underestimated and underused in most Universities even in the US Universities, world leaders in technology-transfer and innovation. There is plenty of gold nuggets hidden in the academic labs, and if academia just waits passively that big companies to knock at their doors, all these discoveries will continue to sleep in the computers of scientists and will not benefit people.
Who is the best able to identify if a discovery could have a business interest?
The scientist himself of course, but only if he/she has some business knowledge.
Scientists having business knowledge and education greatly facilitate the job of the IP department/company or startup incubator staff. Scientists having business knowledge and education can actively synergize with the support provided by the IP department/company leading to a much more efficient probability to bring the technology to the market, and therefore obtaining a business success.
The current solution
Scientists wishing to leave academia follow a business education such as an MBA (Master of Business Administration) only after their career as a researcher, and sometimes several years later.
Time is not infinite for humans and time is money. Globalisation pushes companies to harder competition, but also Universities. Therefore, scientific discoveries have to be put in the train of technology development and commercialization as soon as possible!
The best solution is to propose a very designed MBA specifically to students entering into a PhD program in hard science. By very designed, I mean business training perfectly adapted to the needs of technology-based startups (in contrast to regular MBAs which are more suitable for people working in large organisations).
A PhD program in hard science is a full-time research activity, therefore, the courses of the MBA should be provided at « after-work time » such as 6-10 pm during the week, but also during weekends, and the program could last 2-3-4 years. Of course, only the most motivated PhD students will be selected to enter such a demanding program.
What will be the benefits of a such program for PhD students?
At the end, they will have both a PhD and an MBA diploma (we can also imagine providing a two-in-one diploma such as a PhD-MBA), but also, they have acquired the knowledge to identify if the results of their PhD research could have business potential. Even if their PhD findings is too much fundamental to be applied, they are ready to join the management team of a technology-based startup of the University incubator. Such two-in-one training/diploma will also greatly enhance the employability of young science graduates in companies.
What will be the benefits of a such program for the University?
A such combo two-in-one PhD-MBA program will greatly enhance the rate of technology-transfer, whatever the way of the transfer (by RaaS, by licensing, or by startup foundation).
A such combo diploma will also greatly enhance the employability of PhD graduates in companies. Therefore, the University will have a higher reputation and a higher place in international University rankings.
A such PhD-MBA already exists at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Singapore is really an amazing country and so business-friendly!
Therefore, here you have "The Proof of Concept":