Innovation Practicalities

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One of the things I learned at MIT was how universities can increase their ability to provide scholarships and maintain their educational excellence.  It wasn’t from the conventional academic process.  No, these funds didn’t come from government grants for research.  Because even back then, there wasn’t much (or any) excess in the funding that was provided by NIH, DOD, NSF, and the variety of alphabet agencies that support our educational research programs.

These funds derived from when MIT (and other institutions) license the technology that they developed in their labs for commercial expansion.  In MIT’s case, these entities included Digital Equipment (which became part of HP) and Polaroid (from my days) and now LiquiGlide, among others.

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But, these sort of developments makes sense for tangible innovations, digital technology, engineering developments, and the like.  And, most of them are not radically new ideas, but improvements of what has already been known.  Which means that these innovations should be making a profit within five years or less, which attracts the venture capital they need to get their true start.

But, that doesn’t work for stuff based upon science or technology with no previous history.   (Back when I was in school, that meany genetic engineering; now it’s part of the “norm”.)   But, industry- and to a large part, government- doesn’t want to fund research that will require funding for a decade or two down the road.   Because the payoff is too far away.

So, the breakthroughs we need in desalination (have your read my posts on the world-wide water shortage?), biofuels, even nuclear power are not among the projects that obtain research funding.    The only agency in the government that I can include that may fund such ideas is DARPA- the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-  which thankfully provides funds to things that are not always directly related to military operations.  We need one of these forward thinking entities within the EPA for water and air, the Department of Energy for solar, biofuels, and nuclear innovations, and HHS for health.

But, even these agencies won’t be able to support large-scale and long term funding to bring these new products and technologies to market.  So, we either have to find mechanisms to do so- or perhaps have our research efforts include funding that can shorten the time frame to convert an idea to one with impact.

Right now, the only short-time frame we have is in digital technology.  But, nanoscale techniques, graphene-based systems seem to be a place for further examination.

Maybe, instead  of spending more time refining the concept,  we can develop manufacturing processes in tandem with the additional scientific research and development.   That way the second the product is complete- or even 90% ready- it can be offered to the public for profit and exploitation.   The LiquidGlide company I mentioned above that will provide returns to MIT is one such company.  Carbon3D is another, one that I discussed some 60 days ago.

That’s the concept I’ve been trying to get adopted by a university or two for some five years now.  I want to promote entrepreneurial systems education- based upon science, technology, and best practices- in our universities.   These efforts would be focused on cutting the time frame it takes to go from idea to its production and implementation.

That’s way different than claiming you are teaching folks how to be entrepreneurs.

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