Notes from my dissertation: Academic’s on Research Commerialization

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Notes from my dissertation: Academic’s on Research Commerialization

University of Western Australia

University of Western Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My love for research knows no boundaries. I am intellectually curious and have a hard time accepting ‘truths’.  Scientists, like artists, live in the continuous pursuit of the truth, our own truths… only that scientists look for the out there and validate what they know or don’t know, whereas artists look for the truth inside of them.

Little I knew that researching ‘researchers’ would be so much fun.  I embarked in the journey to understand the role of scientists in commercializing academic research and 4 years later reached the following conclusions – truth I hope gets validated, improved, tossed, or admired.

In colloquial terms, this study confirmed that:

1. Knowledge is, to the academic, what opportunity is to the entrepreneur: an obsession (as my dear prof. Steve Spinelli once told me)

2. Conceptualizing academic entrepreneurship as a way of thinking and acting towards the pursuit of a transformation that creates economic value (or value for society) might provide a better basis for defining academic entrepreneurship.

3. Intentions do not exist in a vacuum, rather, they connect different behaviors that might not look related.


In more academic terms:

The results and conclusions highlighted by this study indicate that academic entrepreneurship is not a simple, linear, process; but a dynamic, eclectic, and complex phenomenon, likely driven by the academics’ interest in researching rather than in profiting from research, and triggered by funding and support mechanisms.

The findings from this study contribute to the exploration of entrepreneurial theory by highlighting the: need to take a long-term view when it comes to knowledge development and appropriation; and importance of the context on an individual’s capacity to act, and to keep on acting, entrepreneurially.

The study also highlights a number of policy recommendations (both institutional and governmental), such as: establishing realistic expectations concerning the impact of academic entrepreneurship; reinserting academics as key participants in the design, implementation, and evaluation of the research commercialization process; and developing a wider set of policies tailored to specific contexts.

In terms of limitations, it should be noted that the conclusions derived from this study could have been impacted by: the nature of the sample of the academics interviewed; the influence of specific circumstances (such as current, high-profile legal cases); the subjectivity of the researcher; and the time constraints imposed on the study due to the relatively short-term nature of a doctoral program.

The findings from this preliminary study suggest that further research is needed to: develop more appropriate metrics for assessing the impact of academic entrepreneurship; better define the phenomenon and the actors involved; and explore in more detail how academics can develop their entrepreneurial behavior over time and how this process might be better supported by both universities and governments.

Finally, it would seem that there could be benefits associated with scholars from business schools collaborating with their colleagues in life sciences to help facilitate the process of research commercialization.


And there is more…

Given the long-term impact of basic research (Kondratieff, 1935), the short-sightedness often adopted in evaluating the outcomes from academic research is concerning. Amongst the many challenges faced when trying to justify the funding for academic research, the most relevant to academic entrepreneurship include:

  1. The impossibility of measuring ex-ante the outcomes of academic research in terms of knowledge production (Donovan, 2007b).
[1] Academic knowledge output cannot be measured by industry standards alone, “while practical inventions can be patented, scientific findings can’t be” (Nelson, 2004, p.455).
  • The distortions created by the race to ‘publish first’ (Buenstorf, 2009; Duberley et al., 2007; Fairweather, 2005). Once publishing is accomplished, the academic must shift her/his attention to new knowledge discovery. Consequently, because of the emphasis on the number of publications, knowledge is fragmented and micromanaged (Fairweather, 2005). The overemphasis on publication outputs also limits the freedom of academic research and confines its purpose to outputs that have little to do with its role in socioeconomic development (Nelson, 2004).
  • The shift of academic research from basic to applied. Today, most universities have commercial offices ready to review and protect from unauthorized commercial use any materials submitted for publication; thus the debate has shifted from ‘publish or perish’ to ‘publish and lose it’ (Cooper, 2002).
  • The difficulty in measuring how knowledge produced at academic institutions is diffused into society. An academic’s core mission is to educate and, therefore, it is expected that knowledge will be transmitted to students.
    1. The production of knowledge has a long-term impact that could be influenced by the historical context in which the academic is situated; in terms of human, financial, and production capital (Perez, 2003).

    Academic entrepreneurship has impacted the way knowledge is created, used and regulated and has created a controversial risk and reward system that involves academia, industry, government and the general population

    And… the baby is here:

    [1]    For example, a historic overview of the fight against cancer indicates the many occasions when promising research proved inconclusive upon further development (Mukherjee, 2011).

    By |April 8th, 2015|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

    About the Author:

    Alicia Castillo Holley is an international speaker and researcher on innovation, entrepreneurship, and venture capital.

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