Business incubation at universities requires more than a capable technology transfer office.
By Angie Chang (Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Women 2.0)

A recent Kauffman Foundation study confirmed that graduate and post-doctoral students are critical participants in university commercialization efforts.

The “University Technology Transfer through Entrepreneurship: Faculty and Students in Spinoffs” study looked at students’ roles in collegiate-level startups, comparing faculty, entrepreneurs and students’ functions and responsibilities in successfully moving innovations out of the university into the market. Author Wai Fong Boh from Nanyang Technological University, Uzi De-Haan from Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) and Robert Strom of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation together studied technology commercialization attempts by faculty and students at eight major U.S. institutions, categorizing four main types of collaborations for commercialization and spinoff:

  • Faculty and experienced entrepreneur partnerships represented 23% of the case studies. This relationship is viewed by faculty as the most successful for the commercialization of collegiate innovation.
  • Faculty and Ph.D/post-doctoral students represented 41% of the commercialization cases in the study.
  • Faculty, Ph.D./post-doctoral students and business school student(s) partnerships represented 13% of the case studies.
  • Student-only ventures represented 23% of the case studies.

“The research also showed that successful entrepreneurial output requires more than a proficient technology transfer office with effective policies and a strong incentive system,” said Robert Strom, director of Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation. “It also relies on an overall university ecosystem that helps to reduce the venture’s market and technological risk by providing programs and resources that give students and faculty freedom – and time – to develop strategic lab-to-market plans.”

Many of the colleges studied have programs and process to support entrepreneurship (ie. mentoring programs, business plan competitions, accelerator programs, entrepreneurship training for students and faculty and project-based classes), bringing together interdisciplinary or MBA student teams to work on business plans and create roadmaps for commercialization. Such programs and practices have enhanced entrepreneurial efforts and allowed the universities to serve as business incubators, and implementation of such programs differ from college to college.

The bottom line is that there are more U.S. Ph.D. graduates than there are jobs in academia. Commercialization of technology out of universities have great potential to provide non-academic career paths for post-doctoral students, providing the United States with continued innovation and economic growth.

Business, tech and entrepreneurship types – get to know your graduate and post-doctoral counterparts and encourage them to take advantage of the collegiate environment and outside ecosystem that supports new business creation. Perhaps there is synergy to be had.

Angie Chang co-founded Women 2.0 in 2006. She currently serves as Editor-In-Chief of Women 2.0 and is working to mainstream women in high-growth, high-tech entrepreneurship. Previously, Angie held roles in product management and web UI design. In 2008, Angie launched Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners, asking that guys come as the “+1” for once. Angie holds a B.A. in English and Social Welfare from UC Berkeley. Follow her on Twitter at @thisgirlangie.