Academic entrepreneurs can have a real impact on society. Science and technology will be critical in our efforts to tackle the most urgent societal challenges, be it climate change, food security, or public health. But we need more people with the courage and technical knowledge to turn discoveries into an everyday reality.
-Dr. Javier Garcia-Martinez, Professor, Universidad de Alicante; Entrepreneur, Rive Technologies
The Academic Entrepreneur just stumbled upon this article written by Javier Garcia-Martinez in Science.
Entitled “The Third Way: Becoming an Academic Entrepreneur” the article is written for academics in the sciences, a segment that this blog The Academic Entrepreneur is focused on as well. It provides a bit of career advice by shedding light on the possibilities of becoming an entrepreneur and mixing with scholarship either before, during or after the entrepreneurial journey.
“… [In current times] scientists do not need to sacrifice academic freedom for the opportunity to bring their discoveries to market. These days, there is a third career path for those with creativity, courage, and capability: academic entrepreneurship. Today, many successful academic entrepreneurs show us that it is possible to be part of the publication race while commercializing scientific findings.”
Kudos as well for pointing out the constraints and balancing act of keeping a foot in two worlds:
“There are several barriers to academic entrepreneurship. First, academic entrepreneurs must possess a rare blend of skills. They must have the attributes of traditional scientists, including inner drive, rigor, and technical skills. They must also possess the attributes of traditional entrepreneurs, such as the ability to recognize business opportunities and create value for the customer, and the willingness to take risks. Academic entrepreneurs must be able to aim high while delivering on their promises and discerning which research endeavors are most likely to contribute to the bottom line. Even for academics with the right set of skills, university culture can be a strong deterrent. Traditional science education doesn’t embrace entrepreneurship, so many young scientists feel unqualified. Principal investigators often take the view that Ph.D. students and postdocs should focus entirely on research. Another disincentive is that, in too many departments, patents and startup companies may count for little during hiring and promotion.”
This is true and of course points to university policy and programmes as prescriptions. Also, Javier points out the importance of role models, and offers himself up as an example of an academic entrepreneur.
Coming out of his postdoc period, he co-founded entered the MIT business plan competition and learned things of useful value and developed skills, such as fundraising, that he would later put to use when co-founding Rive Technologies, which went on to raise $67 million in venture capital from such firms as Advanced Technology Ventures (ATV), Blackstone, Nth Power, and Mitsui Global Investment. It took three years to get there after being founded near MIT, and later moved to Princeon, New Jersey. As an academic entrepreneur, he found the activities of this nanotechnology startup complimentary to his academic activities as well. He was able to step back and make room for a fulltime, full-blown CEO who had skills that he didn’t, but still played an important role in the company. Furthermore, his scholarship benefits his entrepreneurial hat as well:
“Staying in academia, in turn, has been very beneficial to my career as an entrepreneur. It has allowed me to keep abreast of the most forward-looking results in my field, think more broadly and critically about how to transfer my technology, develop new science that could lead to new business opportunities, and identify and recruit new talent.”
Recommended reading is the above article for anyone considering the academic entrepreneurship path. It is not without its risks, of course, which include a) startup failure and b) academic failure. There are plenty of start-ups that fail of course for a variety of reasons, and almost as many thwarted academic careers — didn’t finish the master’s, the PhD, or got distracted on the tenure track and didn’t get it due to lack of good research output, and so forth. It’s a trick balancing act for academic entrepreneurs, and university administrations are called on to become more aware of these challenges, and more supportive of such positive social activities of taking knowledge out of the research lab and translating it into goods and services of value. Keen policy and programmes can play a part in reducing the perceived risks and thus churning out more academic entrepreneurs. It can also help through resourcing such endeavors.