Sunday, May 24, 2015

What's in a Name?

Names can mean something, should mean something. So I was surprised when I read a WAPO piece by a University President proposing some "innovative" way to monetize research.

The article states:

To create a new way of supporting the first stage — from idea to investment — a coalition of funders from the public, for-profit and not-for-profit sectors could work together to establish “innovation orchards.” These would provide what universities alone cannot: the physical space, mentorship and bridge-funding for entrepreneurs to turn new science into workable products, up to the point that they meet venture capital’s five-year threshold for the journey from investment to an impact on the market. This would make investing in tangible or tangible-digital hybrid innovations no riskier than investing in the purely digital. 

It seems to propose that some group or groups "fund" the process of going from pure research to implementation with this "Orchard" concept. Frankly funding of all types seeks a return. The VC or similar funding entity has a lifetime associated with it. It does not go on forever and its returns have a discount factor. You can promise billions of dollars but if it is thousands of years from now one will have little to no interest.

One can suggest something but perhaps more meat on the bones would have been useful. There once was a time when University Presidents could suggest with some detail. This is throwing a name on the wall and hoping that others will fill in the gaps, there being many.

In my experience I a reminded by a comment made by a colleague, oft repeated, "A good idea does not a business make" It is quite unfair to researchers to let them think that the idea alone, even if it is embodied, has any merit other than its very existence. University research is a process of training, teaching a student how to accomplish a task. True research is just that, exploring the future. However one should not expect that every research result is productizeable. They are not.

The real issue is that in our current research the biotech world is soon to dominate. Unlike our past high tech adventures this world will be controlled by the Government, the FDA. It is that process which will delimit what we can accomplish and it is that world which needs modification.