Sunday, April 08, 2012

"Dissidents from the Ivory Tower"??


Happy Easter from Enschede! 

I'm here to visit the University of Twente and its great tech commercialization accelerator, VentureLab, along with some fun research stuff - including serving on a PhD dissertation defense (fancy robes and all!)

And it's the topic of that dissertation by Kristina Dervojeda[1] that should excite you. We already knew this but once again... we see a most important truth.

Title? "Dissidents in the Ivory Tower"...or...
...how do we get faculty increasingly connected to industry? 'Dissidents"should be one BIG clue ;) It is the rare university where getting deeply immersed with the community (let alone industry) is a social norm - probably not 20 universities worldwide who manage to do it & do it effectively.

Why Does This Matter?
PCAST, the President's Council of Advisers for Science & Technology, is charged with identifying critical success factors for tech-based development, especially technology commercialization. Their prescriptions, regardless of party, would not contradict anything here. #1 = getting a LOT better at turning ideas into reality is the only way to grow an economy; #2 = high levels of individual[fn] interactions across boundaries matter enormously.

So how CAN a school do this? 
The second clue is "immersion". Those great programs have faculty and administrators (and students) deeply immersed in the community. (Not "engaged" but really, really immersed.)

Moreover (and even more important): the community is equally immersed in the university. This goes against social norms for universities. But those happy few are reaping disproportionate rewards.

It's PEOPLE, dammit!
What Kristina found is that there are identifiable triggers that nudge faculty toward connecting with industry, the trigger effect was weak in comparison to existing conditions. Connecting is a function of (a) people *already* connecting extensively, (b) strong pre-existing social capital and (c) real expertise at a global/national level.

ALREADY immersed. ALREADY connected. Motivated INtrinsically.

So... if you want to increase university connections with industry... productive connections, we have a few crystal-clear criteria.

1) Hire faculty (& administrators) who are already immersed deeply 
If they weren't doing it Day One without being asked or pushed or bribed... they won't be effective. Universities should not try to get people to do this via money, threats, orders or Grand Strategy. Yikes! No, go hire faculty who are already out there. You may not have much competition ;)

1') Corollary: Grand Strategy doesn't work anyway. You want to grow a community, ask the community members. As convenient as it is, don't just bring together the institutions and the power players until you figure out how to best help the innovators.


2) Hire those with broad, deep social capital 
Why wouldn't you want people who are already well-connected globally? Why wouldn't you want to hire people who are already great connectors [google "liaison-animateur"]?

3) Hire those with big-time expertise 
And being the best at something in Boise or Idaho or whatever simply will not cut it. Maybe someone with great potential is out there, but he or she is very unlikely to live up to that potential without #1 and #2 above.

Note: This fits perfectly with all the evidence on what differentiates the handful of universities that kick butt in technology commercialization. Immersion is essential. Pre-existing immersion, pre-existing social capital, pre-existing expertise... all channeled into a bottom-up vision.

Under both GOP & Democratic presidencies, PCAST has found the same conclusions about growing America's tech economy. To them, this deep co-immersion is clearly a blessing. (The right wing and the left wing both championing bottom-up development? Maybe we will get through these tough times! ;)

Selfishly, I'd also note that PCAST (and OSTP and SSTI and Kauffman and other leaders) point out that no great tech commercialization happens without world-class entrepreneurship faculty. You want to be good at tech transfer? Go get some world-class, deeply connected faculty & give 'em the keys. [2]

Ask yourself:  Wouldn't you want faculty, students & administrators who take entrepreneurial & tech development seriously. And would keep doing the right things even if ordered not to?

VentureLab Twente, my hosts [@VentureLabT]
VLT's success has grown as immersion has grown. It is very clear that University of Twente ("The Entrepreneurial University: High Tech & Human Touch") has better-than-average social norms in all of this. They do have killer faculty & grad students who are motivated intrinsically. While Twente has a remarkably entrepreneurial tradition, it's clear that my friends there "get it" but they also looooove what they do. [fn]


These are tough questions for people to ask their schools, their alma maters, their neighbors. It IS rare that we see this happen -and, sadly, for good reason. And these are questions to ask any of your key institutions, including government. (Consider the Startup America Partnership involving the feds. Can you imagine how hard it was to get that to be at least a little bit bottom up? LOL)

Easter and Passover (and the coming of Spring) carry powerful messages that the world is changing, but we need to embrace those changes ourselves. And that resurrection isn't a one-off event but something we must all do daily In our heads. In our hearts. The communities that recognize the lessons that we've just described are the ones that defied the recession and will be the ones leading the way.

So why not.. us
Norris

[1] Kristina finished her thesis in <4 years while working as a lead consultant for PwC. She's now a group leader. Total slacker! LOL

[2] And, no, your school probably doesn't have any :(
But you COULD! :)

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