Fostering an Entrepreneurial Mindset
Dr. Lew noted that the Department of Commerce had conducted five regional forums in different parts of the United States with university and business leaders to discuss issues affecting commercialization. In addition, she said that her office and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) had issued a request for information that drew more than 200 responses from universities, the private sector, and small businesses, many of them “very thoughtful and rich in commentary.” Respondents were asked to focus on several key questions:14
• How do universities using federal R&D dollars balance the sometimes competing interests in pursuing knowledge for its own sake and focusing on discoveries that have strong commercial potential?
• What is the best way to integrate universities into broader economic strategies that promote regional economic development?
• How can we foster a more entrepreneurial mindset in universities?
• How can we make it easier to connect entrepreneurs and other “business builders” with ideas generated by university research labs?
In the coming weeks, she said, her office would host several roundtables with private-sector participants from different industry sectors to understand the challenges they face in dealing with universities and research laboratories, especially in licensing and manufacturing products from these facilities. “We recognize that it’s not appropriate or feasible to commercialize all federally funded research,” she said. “And we also know that different industry sectors have different timelines for commercialization.” At the same time, she cited the comment by Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, that the United States is building today’s economy on 20- to 30-year-old technology. “We need to compress that cycle and to accelerate the transfer of our research from the labs to the market. The challenge we face in Hawaii and in many regions of the country is how best to connect innovative entrepreneurs to the research institutions and other key partners.”
Dr. Lew praised the plan for developing an intermediary institution in Hawaii and commended other models around the United States. The University of Miami, for example, had placed an entrepreneurship program in its career counseling center. They used this strategy because all undergraduate and graduate students are encouraged to visit that career center, where they could see entrepreneurship identified as a valid career choice. “That means that a music major or science major or business major will all receive the same type of outreach and support through
14These questions were raised by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke in his address to the National Academies R&D Commercialization Forum on February 25, 2010. Access at <http://www.commerce.gov/news/secretary-speeches/2010/02/24/remarks-rd-commercialization-forum-national-academy-sciences>.