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What Would Happen if the Entrepreneurial Spirit Spreads into the Academic World?


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This article will expose a new approach to boost the transfer of technology from Academic research into business.

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What Would Happen if the Entrepreneurial Spirit Spreads into the Academic World?

  1. 1. 1 What Would Happen if the Entrepreneurial Spirit Spreads into the Academic World? 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 ·​ ​Professionalization 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 favored by 3 axes: 1. Research as a Service (RaaS also called Business-to-Science): academic labs can offer their expertise and service to companies wishing to outsource cutting-edge research and unique know-how 2. Technology-Transfer (Science-to-Business): licensing of patents or unique know-how to companies (=> money back to University and researchers by royalties) 3. Technology-Transfer by Entrepreneurship (Science-to-Business): supporting the foundation of spin-off startups fully dedicated to develop, market and commercialize the innovative technology coming from the scientific research Universities have usually an intern department or even a spin-off company (or non-profit organization) with a staff fully dedicated to support the commercialization of scientific Ari Massoudi / Consultant Strategy of Innovation /​ ​​ ​/​ ​ ​
  2. 2. 2 discoveries. The most common name given to a such organization in Universities is Technology Transfer Office (TTO). Therefore, the mission of the TTO is to detect as early as possible the commercial potential of scientific discoveries in academic labs. But it's a very difficult mission! Why? 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 ​an​d ​engineering ​and the last but not the least, ​healthcare sciences ​(​medicine​, veterinary medicine​,​ ​pharmaceutical sciences ​and​ ​pharmacy ​...). How could the staff of the TTO have the skills, the scientific knowledge, the business and market understanding in all of the fields cited above for which there is not yet any market? It is just impossible! Second​, due to scientists themselves. Academic scientists are very smart and brilliant persons of course, people having followed 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 in 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. 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, and even better, if he/she has the entrepreneurial spirit. Ari Massoudi / Consultant Strategy of Innovation /​ ​​ ​/​ ​ ​
  3. 3. 3 Scientists who have the entrepreneurial spirit and some business knowledge and education greatly facilitate the job of the TTO. Business-minded scientists can actively synergize with the support provided by the TTO leading to a much efficient probability to bring the technology to the market, and therefore to obtain a business success. The current solution Scientists wishing to leave academia follow a business education such as a MBA (Master of Business Administration) only ​after​ their career as researcher, and sometimes several years later. Time is not infinite for humans and time is money. The globalization pushes companies to a harder competition, but also Universities. Therefore, scientific discoveries have to be put in the train of technology development and commercialization as soon as possible! Also, some TTOs offer short training in business (marketing, negotiation, IP …) to their scientists who are first-time entrepreneurs. 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 a business training perfectly adapted to the needs of technology-based startups (in contrast to regular MBA which are more suitable for people working in large organizations). 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 week- ends, and the program could last 2-3-4 years. Of course, only the most motivated PhD students will be selected to enter in a such demanding program. What will be the benefits of a such program for PhD students? At the end, they will have both a PhD and a MBA diploma (we can also imagine to provide a two-in- one diploma such as a PhD-MBA), but also they have acquired the knowledge to identify in the results of their PhD researches any 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 in the TTO’s portfolio. A 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 startups foundation). Ari Massoudi / Consultant Strategy of Innovation /​ ​​ ​/​ ​ ​
  4. 4. 4 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":​ ​ The NUS PhD-MBA A doctoral programme for entrepreneurial scientists and engineers Program Overview The NUS PhD-MBA programme offers unique opportunity for students who have great aspirations to become future entrepreneurs and technology leaders. It is jointly hosted by the NUS Graduate School for Integrative Sciences and Engineering ​(NGS)​ and the NUS Business School ​(bschool)​. Our programme aims to provide a strong foundation for concurrently learning science and management. NUS PhD-MBA: Key Features ● Concurrent PhD and MBA, taking much less time than completing both separately ● Choice of any domain for the PhD, from the life and physical sciences to engineering and IT ● Monthly (12 months per year) tax-free stipend of S$3,200 ● PhD & MBA tuition fee waiver The programme walks through three indispensable phases which includes a PhD - development of research skills in science/technology; an MBA – development of business acumen; and Internships – practical technology and business training. A Minimum Viable Solution An easier solution and faster to implement would be to offer to researchers in a PhD program but also to Post-Doctoral researchers a training in ​Effectual Entrepreneurship​, and why not, even a coaching/mentoring (in close collaboration with the TTO of the University) to those who are motivated to commit into an entrepreneurial project. Most of training for entrepreneurs are based on the basic knowledge that the businessmen and managers should have (business administration, business law & IP, strategy & management, business plan writing, market research & marketing - segmentation, targeting, positioning, marketing mix, negotiation, sales ... - corporate finance & accounting, ... ect.). These training are useful for entrepreneurs with a late-stage project or an established business but they are quite useless for early-stage projects, and they can even be counterproductive because your market research could tell you that there is no market while you may disrupt the market ie you may create a new market! Entrepreneurship by the Effectual approach (or simply ​Effectuation​) is perfectly adapted to projects evolving in an environment with a high degree of uncertainty. Ari Massoudi / Consultant Strategy of Innovation /​ ​​ ​/​ ​ ​
  5. 5. 5 When you want to launch an Italian restaurant at a Z place in a X city, the uncertainty is low because most of people know what Italian food is, they like it, your market research can give you precious information about the Z place you chose (catchment area, kind of people, other restaurants in the neighbourhood, their types of food, their revenues .. ect.), and therefore you can write a quite accurate business plan (including the financial forecast) and design your restaurant and its offers very finely with the hope to satisfy your future clients. But when you want to found a business based on your scientific research, while 99% of common mortals don't get a word of what you do, your technology doesn't have yet any application, or maybe it has an application but you don't know how to make it a product and you don't know to who and how to sell it ... the uncertainty is at its highest level! Therefore, you need an entrepreneurial approach that match perfectly with uncertainty, and this approach is the Effectuation. Learn more about the Effectual approach: French Prof. Philippe Silberzahn English Prof. Saras D. Sarasvathy Effectuation: Elements of Entrepreneurial Expertise (New Horizons in Entrepreneurship series) by Saras D. Sarasvathy​ ​ Effectual Entrepreneurship by Stuart Read et al.​ ​ Ari Massoudi / Consultant Strategy of Innovation /​ ​​ ​/​ ​ ​