Scientists: What do we want them to be?

A recent blog post by Adam Small and article by Godfrey Bridger comments on the issue of scientists becoming entrepreneurs got me thinking about our expectations of the modern day scientist.

What do we want them to be?

Ultimately we want them to conduct world standard research to expand our knowledge which we can leverage for the benefit of the human race. This benefit can take many forms but of particular relevance is products and services to fuel our economic prosperity as a country.

Scientists don’t need to be entrepreneurs, but they do need to be entrepreneurial or commercially aware. This is not an option! It is and will continue to be part of the scientists job description. Part of their responsibility to ensure the knowledge derived from their research is disseminated and put to use. Like most things we need to take in consideration the diversity amongst our scientists; from those who want to pursue the venture through to fruition to those who are quite contempt to pass it on to the ‘business folk’. However the basal level of competence should include the ability to:

  • be innovative (obviously)
  • assess the need for their proposed research e.g. patent search
  • recognise commercial opportunities within their research and know how to act upon them
  • know the implications of intellectual property within their research
  • have an understanding of how products and services typical in their field are developed and delivered (regulatory routes, commercialisation routes, timelines).

The majority of senior scientists that have learnt the above have simply absorbed it through the years of osmosis while being in academia. What we are seeing now is hopefully this happening a lot earlier in scientists’ careers supported by education programmes and initiatives to cater for the various thirsts for bio-enterprise and technology transfer.  Some examples off the top of my head [of course biased towards Auck Uni ] are university business plan competitions (Spark, Kickstart/Audacious, Entre’), new cross disciplinary degrees (Bioscience Enterprise Programme a Auck Uni), student lead initiatives ( Chiasma), integration of IP components into papers (Baldwins and CHEM392 at Auck Uni), integration of entrepreneurship papers into core tech programmes (MGMT 303 New Ventures & Entrepreneurship in the Biotech programme at Auck Uni).

Conversely the business units supporting these R&D facilities i.e. typically business development teams (BDOs) in CRIs and tech transfer offices within Universities need to also provide adequate support to nurture their scientists. Some methods include:

  • having strong relationships with its researchers from Day 1. Don’t sit back and wait for them to come to you. Part of a early career scientists induction should be a meeting with their TTO/BDO rep/ contact.
  • communication
    • communicate to researchers the benefits of technology transfer
    • communicate success – each new successful licensing agreement, each time a academic reaps benefits from taking their research through the TTO/BDO
  • allow staff to explore their entrepreneurial ambitions.
  • promote cross collaboration of research through linking IP.
  • have seasoned entrepreneurs on standby to mentor or develop technology for potential spin offs or search for appropriate licensees.
  • have funds available to drive both technical and business development of projects that have commercial value.
  • educate staff in intellectual property and R&D commercialisation

 

____________________________

Graeme @ graemefielder.com

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