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Entrepreneurial University: How to Drive Private Sector Innovation?

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

Think with me! How many great research ideas, papers and projects conducted by university Professors and final year Students are now “on the shelf”? How many wasted business opportunities a company has missed by not having an innovation team or department? But wait, from where great ideas come in the first place?

As someone who worked many years as a Digital Transformation advisor, I say with certainty, business innovation comes mostly from research. In fact, big companies do have enormous R&D teams and they spend billions of dollars on Research alone. An important question would then be how the private sector and particularly startups can follow the same path?

We at for example, work with university professors on research papers that represent “THE CORE” of our work. We firmly believe our success comes from working on the latest research in Data & AI combined with Business Innovation to create next-level products that can compete with technologically advanced offerings in the market. I would guess that you have been intrigued by the “Entrepreneurial University” term in the title. Did I get that right? I have always been captivated by the notion of working with universities to create entrepreneurial thinking, collaborate and solve the knowledge paradox between the academic and private worlds. In fact, this model is widely used by developed countries and considered the second source of funding for academic research in the US.

Finding Common Ground

Finding the common ground between academic researchers and private sectors can be difficult and a road full of hardship and that is mainly in my opinion due to the different mindset between sellers in private companies and scientists. Nevertheless, both parties recognize they need each other to reach their goals. So what is the secret to bridging the gap between the two fields? The secret in my opinion is innovative thinking. Both fields can embrace innovative thinking and adopt a process. This process should serve as a “connector” between the two fields.

Private Companies Viewpoint

Private companies look for profitability and always measured by their ability to make money. Yes, there are other measures companies employ but at the very end, it is how much money they earned in a given period. So for simplicity, let say private companies do view the world from a money angle. Now, to earn that many companies must implement various strategies to better allocate resources and achieve their goals. Depending on the company strategy and the type of products they make, traditional products are now very hard to sell. In fact, the consumer has become more sophisticated and demand new experience. Companies have no choice but to transform the way they offer business and continue to innovate. To do that, many have sought to establish an innovation department to start to ideate and bring new ideas. It is unequivocal that basing products on the latest in research would mostly position the companies’ products as leading in the industry assuming proper marketing and sales strategies. Therefore, working with research institutes would bring great opportunity to business. Realizing its significance, private companies can work with researchers and ensure the result is aligned with the company strategy and the final product is consumer-friendly.

Researchers Viewpoint

Researchers, on the other hand, focus on the quality of research and the outcomes. Although researchers do consider the practicality of the proposed solutions, however, they don’t tend to focus on the sell-ability of the solutions. It is immensely important that researchers are not distracted by the sales or business matters so they are focus on the quality of outcomes. Having a clear process will certainly help both researchers and private companies collaborate and produce tangible outcomes without compromise from any party. Process To Adopt Having an independent regulatory body that helps shape the regulation and guidelines that govern the relationship and ensure ethics, seemly and proper conducts are in place is of great value. There is an active relationship today between researchers and the private sector, however, this relationship is not really bound by a clear process that leaves no ambiguity. The below is a proposed process; rather than a simple one; that ensure a consistent relationship:

Influence & Impartiality

Although the idea of Industry Research Funding seems effectively inciting to the development of research. However, there are growing concerns over the fair-mindedness of research, ethics and impartiality of both research topics and researchers. This has inclined countries to develop guidelines and governance models to help ensure the adherence to properly checked procedures to help avoid conflict of interest and keep preserving the lofty goals of scientific research while enabling the private sector to both contribute to research advancement and help bring innovation to business and consumers.

Financial Model

Perhaps, having a financial model that ensures both researchers and research institutes are compensated well is really needed. The financial model will also incentivize the private sector to invest. The cost of establishing an innovation team at the company would be higher compared to offering to compensate a researcher in a university. Furthermore, the industry research fund will help researchers produce more results. Not only that but also, it enables researchers for example access enterprise-level tools and resources. For instance, researchers can access data annotators in a company or hire someone easily via the company purchase department. They can also build appealing UI that help deliver the solution and show its capability in a better and well-presented UI.

Regulations & Guidelines

The need for setting up regulations and guidelines to govern the relationship between the private sector and the academic research institutes is unequivocally important to ensure the sustainability of the relationship and the yielded outcomes that contribute to business innovation and the increase in the research activities. The key highlights that need to be taking into consideration whilst planning and building such guidelines and governance models need to ensure:

  • Clear guidelines for Intellectual Property and Patents ownership. This also should include any artefacts such as code and datasets

  • Clear guidelines for future development and usage of the research outcomes. This should also include any packaging and repackaging of any solution.

  • Clear guidelines on the licenses scheme and distribution.

  • Clear guidelines on the compensation scheme and governance model to ensure fairness and avoid any abuse.

  • Clear guidelines on procedures to ensure research fairness as well as correctness and preserve the ethics of research conducts.

It’s also worth it that government need to build a framework that helps both the academic and private sectors collaborate without worrying about complex engagement models and fear of preaching any law. That also should include creating a body that oversights the relationship and ensures adherence to the herewith in framework. I hope you found this article useful and enriching and would be delighted to receive your kind comments and feedback. Also, please do share your experience if you are an academic and had the chance to work with the private sector.

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