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Toward an Ecosystem for Innovation: Linking Science and Business via New University Degrees and New Modes of Teaming

A Triple Helix 5 Workshop Proposed by:

Convener/Moderator: Sheila Tobias, Sloan Science Master's Outreach Project, USA
email: sheilat@sheilatobias.com

Rationale for the Workshop
Many organizations – corporations and universities – have a high rate of idea generation. Unfortunately, many of these organizations have low rates of transforming ideas into commercial success. What has to be recognized is that great ideas are simply the starting point. It is the conversion of ideas into commercial success that is the essence of innovation. Why aren’t more technologies transferred to the marketplace? Why isn’t the rate of innovation higher? To answer these questions we must understand the technology transfer process and consider the culture or ecosystem of innovation.

Most often successes or failures of innovation are analyzed in terms of organization: the way in which organizations (academia, government, and industry) influence and shape the tech transfer process. But this analysis may well underestimate the role that individuals and in particular individual scientists play. In this workshop, five university educators will consider how innovation and tech transfer relate to the education of scientists, both during their undergraduate and graduate studies and throughout their professional science careers.

Since 1997, 45 universities in the U.S. as well as Leiden University in The Netherlands have launched post-graduate master’s degree programs to meet the burgeoning need of high-tech business, industry, and the public sector for cross-trained professionals in science and business. This workshop will explore the cross training model in terms of the theory of innovation that underlies these new degree programs; and additionally, the potential for cross training mature scientists across national boundaries.

Four of the presenters, Ruiz, Levine, Smith and Tobias, work together at the University of Arizona. The fifth, Jousma, heads up a program in Leiden University in The Netherlands and has worked with Tobias and her Dutch collaborator there.

Kenneth R. Smith, Ph.D., Eller Distinguished Service Professor of Economics and APS Professor of Technology Management, Eller College of Management, University of Arizona, USA
Accelerating Innovation: The Advanced Technology Transfer Process and the Innovation Ecosystem.

Joaquin Ruiz, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Science, University of Arizona, USA
Changing the Incentives of Optical Scientists in a Bi-National Consortium

Harmen Jousma, Ph.D., Program Manager, “Science Based Business” Master’s Program, Leiden University, The Netherlands
The Role of the Scientist in Initiating and Nurturing High-tech Innovation within the Life Sciences

Alaina G. Levine, Program Coordinator, Professional Science Master’s PSM Degree Program and Instructor in Entrepreneurship, University of Arizona, USA
Teaching Science/Math Graduates to Think Like Entrepreneurs

Sheila Tobias
, PSM National Outreach Coordinator, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, New York, USA
The Newest Master’s (PSM): Developing and Accrediting Professional Degree Programs in the Sciences and Mathematics

Extended Abstracts

Kenneth R. Smith
Accelerating Innovation: The Advanced Technology Transfer Process and the Innovation Ecosystem

Within the context of the dynamics of the innovation process outlined above in the Workshop rationale, the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona has identified the essential elements of an innovation ecosystem as including: an entrepreneurial mindset and cross disciplinary thinking. Further, that fundamental to success of the advanced technology transfer process is an effective partnership between the scientist and the business entrepreneur.

With 20 years of experience at the Eller College of Management’s top ranked entrepreneurship program, we have developed both the concepts and the models for organizing and guiding the advanced technology transfer process. Central to the process are: a) concept phase feasibility studies and b) commercial phase business plans. In the concept phase, ideas from science and technology are transformed into product concepts that are commercially viable. That is, a market exists and it is organizationally and financially viable to make these products. In the commercial phase, a business plan demonstrates efficient engineering and production processes, efficient marketing and distribution strategies and strategic competitive advantage leading to attractive rate of return relative to risk to justify the required investment.

We also conclude that the scientist must obtain an elementary understanding of business and the entrepreneur must develop an ability to address the technical questions that must be answered. Moreover, the effectiveness of the partnership is enhanced by recognizing that the business plan itself is intellectual property. It is the combination of scientific intellectual property with business intellectual property that creates the potential value in the marketplace. The conceptual discussion presented will be illustrated by case studies based on the Eller College experience.


Joaquin Ruiz

Changing the Incentives of Optical Scientists in a Bi-National Consortium

The government of Mexico supports three National Optical Research Institutes under the aegis of its Council of Science and Technology (CONACyT). To change the incentives of its scientists, from writing and publishing papers to helping the country produce jobs through innovation and technology, CONACyT has entered into a collaboration with the University of Arizona (UA), called the Bi-national Consortium in Optics, which brings UA faculty and researchers together with their counterparts in universities, think tanks, and research institutes and laboratories in Mexico.
The aim is to develop both cross-border research programs and projects and to instruct Mexican scientists in technology transfer to facilitate the commercialization of the optics technology they develop. At least as important, is to present high technology enterprise as an employment option for researchers and students. The Mexican government recognizes that diversification of employment opportunities has the potential for improving the economy of the country and slowing down the exodus of talented scientists to countries with more high technology opportunities.

Faculty from the UA Eller College of Management visited research institutes in Leon and Ensenada in 2004 to teach a symposium leading to a certificate in Foundations of Business for scientists. The certificate program provides scientists and engineers with the skills they need to meet business objectives, commercialize a product, run an R&D facility and/or contribute to a start-up enterprise.

A second phase involves teams of MBA candidates and graduate students in optics, science, engineering, and the Professional Science Master's. These students complete a ten-week internship during the summer at one of the optics research centers in Mexico where they create and write feasibility plans on cutting-edge optical technologies currently being developed by the brightest scientific minds at Mexican research institutes. Their objective is to assess the commercial viability of the technologies and to assist the scientists in determining how “hot” the technology might be in the marketplace.

In each science institute, the team selects two technologies to develop into business products, and ultimately business plans may be written. The results are win-win for the scientists at the Optical Institutes and for the students in science and in business. In 2005, the Bi-national Consortium will be expanded and there will be a professional science master's degree program initiated in one of the Mexican research institutes with the aim to train Mexican science graduates in entrepreneurship, tech transfer, and venture capitalization.

Harmen Jousma, The Role of the Scientist in Initiating and Nurturing High-tech Innovation within the Life Sciences

The life sciences present one example of science driving business through innovation. In this sector, innovation rests on the degree of productive interaction that can be generated between the scientist or engineer (the knowledge bearer) who invents the innovative service or product and those who are capable of bringing that innovation to market. If, for example, a life scientist has no idea about what drives business in biotechnology, he or she can't translate the invention into a business idea, can't appreciate the opportunities the invention may create and won’t be willing (for whatever reasons) to give up some research (temporarily) in the interest of development, in which case the invention is doomed to remain unexploited. For Europeans, this has resulted in an “innovation drain” where the invention is not exploited or is exploited in another economy.

If one probes for the probable causes of scientists’ disinclination to contribute to the innovation process, there are explicit factors, the science curriculum itself, and implicit factors, the networks created while at university.

To counter this, Leiden University has developed a master’s level Science Based Business (SBB) degree to a) broaden the horizons of science students with a view to career opportunities outside science and b) demonstrate the application of science and science skills in business and business disciplines. These dimensions tend to get short shrift in university science programs because such programs are mono-disciplinary in nature and geared towards the further development of their science through fundamental research. Part of the SBB is a course called Orientation on Technopreneurship, open to both students and (junior) staff, with the aim to increase participants’ aptitude and skills for turning life science discoveries into business ventures. Elsewhere in Europe and the UK, with the same set of goals in mind, various universities now offer programs in “physics and business,” “chemistry and business”, etc, both at the bachelor’s and master's level.

Faced with a decreasing number of science students one may, however, wonder whether this approach is sufficient. Soon there may not be enough scientists around to act both as creators and initiators in the innovation process. A desirable parallel might be to develop master’s programs that teach business students the basics of science and science-based business so that they can spot, understand, and pursue science-based business opportunities. Here, too, the role of scientists and science communities comes into play. If scientists are reluctant to teach business students because it doesn’t fit in with their research priorities, the chances for such programs succeeding are slim.


Alaina G. Levine
Teaching Science/Math Graduates to Think Like Entrepreneurs

What is the likelihood that the next millionaire entrepreneur will be a scientist? With more US science departments offering a graduate curriculum in entrepreneurship and business, or at least allowing their students the opportunity to take business electives, the chances are improving. In recent years, there have been greater efforts to insert entrepreneurship and a business curriculum into traditional graduate science programs, as well as to create new programs at the intersection of science and business. The ever-changing global economy and technical job market have resulted in the growing need for science students to have more than just a basic understanding of business foundations. Successful science students must also adopt the unique thinking process that characterizes successful entrepreneurs: one that involves and integrates innovation, risk, creativity, analysis, communication, organization, and challenge -- all for the purpose of creating a new venture that will solve customer problems, beat the competition, and earn a profit.

In 2004, the University of Arizona Department of Physics launched Topics in Entrepreneurship for Scientists, a new course explicitly designed to give students understanding of the elements of the entrepreneurship process in scientific ventures to prepare them for scientific careers in industry and to pursue the development of new scientific ventures. It is noteworthy that the Entrepreneurship course was cross-listed in the departments of Physics, Mathematics, Molecular and Cellular Biology.

Students in the course are exposed to successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, intellectual property attorneys, and senior level executives of science-based ventures. They learn the basics of entrepreneurship from these professionals and discover the process of transitioning their mindset from that of a scientist to one of a business person in a new venture. The students form teams throughout the semester, mentored by working entrepreneurs, and produce white papers (the precursor to business plans) on emerging technological and business problems and solutions.


Sheila Tobias
The Newest Master’s (PSM): Development and Accrediting Professional Degree Programs in the Sciences and Mathematics

Since 1997, 45 universities in the U.S. as well as Leiden University in The Netherlands have launched post-graduate master’s degree programs to meet the burgeoning need of high-tech business, industry and the public sector for a cadre of science-and mathematics-trained professionals. The degree in the U.S. is called the Professional Science Masters or PSM in The Netherlands (see Jousma’s presentation) the SBB, the Master’s in Science-Based Business. It is anticipated that PSM and SSB grads (along with M.S./MBA’s) will serve as liaisons, consultants, and managers in research-intensive employment. In the U.S., the PSM is being offered in such areas as biotechnology, bioinformatics, financial, and industrial mathematics, environmental risk management, economic geology, computational chemistry, nanotechnology, the physics of modeling, applied optics, and geographical information systems and its applications. According to the Sloan Foundation, one of the supporters of the Initiative, the PSM offers “…more science than the MBA, more business, management, and communication skills than the Ph.D., and more informatics than both.”

Challenges include:

  • Programs’ multi-disciplinarity, which complicates accreditation and quality control.
  • Financing and long-term sustainability.
  • Overcoming resistance from hiring managers.
  • Perceived competition with recruitment for the Ph.D. degree.
  • Europe’s unfamiliarity with master’s-level education.
  • A perception among scientists and mathematicians in the U.S. and the U.K. that the master’s is a failed Ph.D.
  • Competition for students if the M.S./MBA takes hold.







Triple Helix Conference I Amsterdam, 1996 II New York, 1998 III Rio de Janeiro, 2000 IV Copenhagen, 2002 V Turin, 2005 VI Singapore, 2007 VII Glasgow, 2009 VIII Madrid, 2010 IX Stanford, 2011 X Indonesia, 2012 XI London, 2013
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