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Siled universities risk stifling innovation

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Tuesday, September 20, 2022 6:00 AM

Researchers use robots in the Robotics Hanger at the Royal College of Art’s Design and Innovation Campus. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for RCA)

Just a 10 minute bike ride between London Business School and University College London near Regent’s Park. However, you might be surprised to learn that despite their physical proximity and complementary knowledge bases, they rarely work together.

I have been the Commercial Director at University College London for almost 20 years and have spent countless hours developing plans to help researchers commercialize promising technologies. There were some great successes, but not enough new ventures given the wealth of ideas, talent, and drive.

When I entered the London Business School in 2007, I was surprised to find that most of the ideas students proposed were not grounded in cutting-edge science. But just down the road was some amazing technology waiting for someone to turn it into a business.

Not finding a way to systematically build a team of venture-hungry researchers and MBA’s has been one of the biggest disappointments of my career.

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A new approach from the London Business School may finally solve this conundrum. Known as Innovation to Market, the course brings together early-career researchers from London’s leading universities and business school students with technology backgrounds to build ventures that are suitable for reliable investment.

In the first year, we recruited 30 students and 13 young researchers from all over Japan. Each researcher brought a technology they wanted to commercialize. These include microbiome-based antimalarials, Internet of Things devices with scavenging sounds, hydrogel synthetic meat scaffolds, dental repair toothpaste, and haptic devices that touch you like another human force. I got

Students, researchers, and researchers worked on the final assessment over two semesters. Dragon’s Den style pitch in front of major UK technology investors.

All of our educational sessions are based on real tech-based startups, we asked successful founding teams to share what they learned and tech investors to tell us what they want.

And, importantly, they also put a lot of emphasis on socializing. Students networked at breakfast before the seminar and at lunch after each session. The key to a successful startup is often mutual chemistry, trust, knowledge and respect. All of this relies on the gradual building of social capital.

I also tried to ignore the prejudices held by students and researchers. We wanted to dispel the notion that business students should be CEOs and want researchers to focus on the technical side. As the pitch date approached, our experiment generated overwhelming feedback from our investor jury that every venture has potential.

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Great technology lurks in every university. The university’s standard response has been to add a technology transfer office to support and inspire researchers. While they are effective, they generally only have the bandwidth to deal with easily achievable outcomes.

If we really want to commercialize the world-class technology our university produces, we need more alchemy. It’s time to integrate a team of combined research and commercial expertise into an effective commercialization team. .

The big lesson to learn from this course is that just because a company owns the technology, it doesn’t necessarily mean they own the technicians. It’s a lesson everyone should take to heart, whether you’re a student or an industry veteran.

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