The innovation process is slow and ineficient, but very productive
Scientific and technological transference to business is always a difficult and time-consuming process that requires a lot of economic and material resources. But, despite being an inefficient system, it is very productive for entrepreneurs and society, says Jerome Engel, international recognized expert in innovation, entrepreneurship and venture capital. “There is no other way that do a lot of experiments to succeed, first on a small and limited scale and after in a bigger scale” he highlights.
Engel (Philadelphia, 1946), who lectures and advises governments around the world about these topics, has 43 years of experience in this field, 31 of them as a professor at Haas School of Business – University of California Berkeley and 24 as an investor. From the last 5 years he collaborates with The Collider, innovation area of MWCapital, directing and lecturing in the training programme of managers of the Research Results Transfer Offices of the Spanish universities, called Train the Trainers.
According to the expert, “entrepreneurs are people who look for business opportunities, beyond the economic resources or the time that it takes to materialize their vision. Their main responsibility is to get the resources to achieve the business opportunity that they pursue. The fundamental task for an entrepreneur is to create alliances and collaborations between people and companies, to convince people that the business opportunity offered to them will be materialized, and it is interesting to join the innovation process.
The main concern of true scientists is science development. Some of them, the fewest, see the business opportunity through scientific development and move towards technological and commercial development. On the other side of the chain of science, technology and business, there are the company managers, whose main task is the management of economic resources. But also there are managers who see beyond and detect business opportunities in scientific and technological experiments, above immediate economic profitability. The confluence between scientists and managers with a wide vision of future use to give very positive results, Engel says.
Scientific and technological development is very necessary, he remarks, but it is not enough. To succeed and for a technological or scientific development benefits society, it must be provided with resources and move forward step by step, with progressive experiments and clear objectives that will be expanded trough time. Also, business experiments must be done and validate them with the business sector that we are aiming. Engel believes that science “is fundamental for the social progress, but it is a long and laborious process that sometimes leads to nowhere.
Scientific and technological development processes are inefficient. It may take many years, involve a lot of brilliant minds and a huge amount of money and in the end you don’t achieve anything because success is never guaranteed. Nevertheless, Engel says that it is a process globally considered “very productive”. The process involves subjects and experimental systems which are not bounded by engineering laws where everything is more predictable, and, therefore, there may be a bigger number of failures. But scientific or technological successes can cause very considerable social advances, he says.
The role of the universities in all the process to expand and transfer knowledge to society is also fundamental. Universities role is to preserve knowledge. Through all scientific development history happened some advances very concentrated in time that allowed stunning results. Let’s think about Galileo Galilei or Newton. Now, the role of the universities and research centers has expanded, and beyond of knowledge preservation and transfer it to society, its task is to boost new scientific and technological developments. The big universities also had centers or departments that choose the best candidates to gather them with entrepreneurs and investors.
Agreements and contracts between universities and entrepreneurs are increasing so that there is a positive and active transference of science and technology in projects that, in the end, are beneficial for society. We can’t forget that the innovation process is long and very complex and many times, success or failure depends on multiple factors such as be in the right time, have a very competent team, or simply, be lucky. It is not possible to have it all under control, but this process requires discipline, effort and perseverance.
“Is never too late to start an entrepreneurship project” Engel says. Sometimes is better to wait for some months or years to be sure that the project is mature enough or personal and familiar circumstances are appropriate. It is precise to have talent, intelligence and know how to take risks. The support of the universities is important, specially from universities with a vocation for entrepreneurship, which are committed to the transfer of science and technology they possess.
Collaboration between people is also fundamental, emphasizes Engel. It is the community of people that creates the necessary link so that the projects be successful. It is a long process, subject to many ups and downs, but also to peaks of innovation that can make a great difference.