Keep your Academics Close

The Innovation Funnel

Check out the work of Prof. Henry Chesbrough at UC Berkley, on innovation ref1. I interpret his funnel as a transition from learning; starting with research, moving into licencing considerations then on to partnership with development teams and on into marketing and sales. The model works forward from knowledge, through ideas taken out of the labs and inserted into products in the marketplace.

Researchers have a contribution (largely back-loaded) all along this series of transitions, right down to assisting sales teams by being invited to sales meetings to dazzle potential customers.

Across all these phases we have teams with differing expertise, so designing the handovers is of prime importance. Have we built competence and confidence in the recipient team? Can we support the recipient team towards not just understanding but mastery?

Why work with academia? Companies have resources that academia does not have. Money, influence with other companies, contacts, resources. Universities have libraries, rigour, time, ideas, and access to multi-disciplinary expertise.

Listen, learn and help

We have our academic researchers in the office two or three days a week. This builds a two-way conduit for tacit knowledge, while allowing you to check progress and direction. The company learns of the intricate nature of the new field being explored and can ground this knowledge with everyday questions. The academics come to grips with the company, its culture, personalities and products.

Be clear on IP

We have two worlds working together that operate in different currencies; academics publish, companies patent. Every enterprise has an IP portfolio, some of it defensive and some core to product. Given the costs of patenting, when it comes to the crunch everyone is slow to patent non-core material. If it is non-core, this means you can learn these new techniques and the academics can publish. Everyone is happy.

Play a long game

Daily pressure provides us all with a short-game, we also need a long-game. We live in a rapidly changing society, exciting, confusing and often shallow. This is not new, “….the mills of God grind slowly;
Yet they grind exceeding small” this observation is at least two millennia old ref 2,and can be applied to research.

As a result of working with academia in this manner, you are better trained, connected at a more profound level with your development groups and familiar with academics who understand your business. Markets move and you find yourself better prepared for opportunities.

Sometimes you get to retain these bright resources, often you let them move on, but you should remain connected. They will continue to publish and your company will continue to learn and their time with you will continue to be an important element of their research careers.

ref 1. Topics in Open Innovation Seminar MBA 290.T by Henry Chesbrough, Faculty Director, Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation, IMIO, Haas School of Business
ref 2.

September 13, 2013

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