By Dr Kevin Byron, Queen Mary, University of London
The entrepreneurial expert Peter Drucker once said “The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity”. This could equally describe a researcher, with the only difference being in the nature of the opportunity and the mechanisms of exploitation. In the case of the entrepreneur this would lead to the creation of a new business and for the researcher, new discoveries leading to progress through publications etc.
It could be argued therefore that some of the skills of the entrepreneur overlap with those of the researcher. The challenges then for developing a more entrepreneurial mindset with researchers lie first in understanding these overlaps and then practice of the developmental and technical skills that could lead to the redirection of the mechanisms of exploitation of research.
I believe that technology PhDs incorporating entrepreneurship training should first explore how entrepreneurship and research relate to each other. The relationship can be illustrated through the application of ‘The Enquiry Wheel’ (Harwood, W. S., et al., 2004) - a tool that describes the various stages of progression in scientific research - and how this maps on to ‘The Enterprise Cycle’ (Byron, K. C., 2010) - a tool developed at Queen Mary, University of London that shows the stages of development of a new enterprise.
The Enquiry Wheel and The Enterprise Cycle: the similarities between research and enterprise development (click on images to enlarge).
Special attention should be given to the notion that research ideas that have commercial potential are not necessarily in the main line of sight of the research being undertaken. This may mean for example that a perhaps smaller problem, solved as part of a larger research endeavour, could have greater potential for commercial exploitation.
This requires the researcher to see a broader horizon not only in terms of their research field, but how it interfaces - no matter how distantly or obliquely - with commercial markets. Here a more flexible, creative approach to research and its application is needed. This needs to be informed by an awareness of markets, trends in markets and a sensitivity to gaps in markets which will be included in the training. An essential skill in this phase of the training will focus on creativity in research, and how that becomes innovation in the marketplace. Underpinning this are the processes of knowledge exchange and an awareness of the appropriate ‘levels of technology readiness’ concepts.
The second phase of the skills training should focus more on the conventional aspects of the entrepreneurial mindset. Whilst these bear some resemblance to some of the transferable, researcher skills, the context and emphases are quite different. These include influence and negotiation, marketing, pitching and presenting, and general business awareness skills. In common with the creative skills described earlier, the training will have an emphasis on learning in action and with relevance to each individual’s unique research and entrepreneurial challenges. Finally some of the more essential information-heavy training such as IPR will be presented in novel ways to enable the attendees to put in practice some of the knowledge acquired.
Byron. K. C. “The Enterprise Cycle”, International Entrepreneurship Educators’ Conference, (IEEC’10), Cardiff, 2010.
Harwood, W.S., Reiff, R., & Phillipson, T. Voices from the frontline: Scientists’ conceptions of scientific inquiry. J. Chem Edu, 2004.
Dr Kevin Byron is Enterprise Education Coordinator at The Learning Institute, Queen Mary, University of London.