The science of being a commercial success

Turning the joy of a scientific breakthrough into a viable product requires the skill and experience of a hard-nosed businessman

If you look at the world economies that are still thriving despite the backwash from the financial meltdown of 2008, they tend to be those where people don't just shunt money around in ever more exotic ways, but where they actually make or develop things. However, the scientists and engineers who come up with the ideas behind these ventures often do not have the commercial skills or experience to turn their inspiration into a viable business that can make their invention fulfil its true potential. For every James Dyson with his knighthood and estimated worth of around £15bn, or the founders of Instagram, the photo sharing application for smartphones that was recently snapped up by Facebook for $1bn (£650m), there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of IT geeks and bio-tech researchers whose dreams never turn into reality.

Now, that could be changing. The international business community has decided that it's time to help turn these backroom inventors into successful entrepreneurs.

At one of the UK's top engineering universities, the Loughborough University School of Business and Economics, the link between the technical and the commercial is forged through a core module called "managing innovation". Students are put into groups and offered a choice of new technologies that have not yet been fully commercialised. The groups then research the business potential of their selected technology over the course of the module and present their evaluation back to a technologist. "It enables students to work alongside technologists in developing a commercialisation strategy to take new products or services to market," says Stuart West, the MBA programmes director. "And it's also a golden opportunity to team up with technologists to create a start-up of their own."

The module was the brainchild of the school's enterprise veteran, Professor Graham Boocock, and uses the Technology, Entrepreneurship and Commercialisation (TEC) algorithm that was first developed at North Carolina State University in the US. The TEC algorithm has been specifically designed to assess new innovations with high growth potential. Ventures in the US associated with its use have already attracted more that $200m (£120m) in venture capital funding.

Elsewhere, the reputation of a parent university for science is helping potential students to see that studying at its business school would be less of a culture shock than might be otherwise expected. For example, Timothy Kaan had spent all of his career in pharmacology and neuroscience. He earned a PhD from King's College London and engaged in post-doctoral work at the University of California before taking an MBA at Oxford University's Saïd Business School. "The deciding factor for me was Oxford's name in science and healthcare research," he says. "I was hoping to find opportunities to interact with the wider research community in Oxford and that's proven to be one of the most rewarding experiences – being able to share my business management skills with scientific researchers and collaborate on strategies to commercialise their ideas."

In the USA, a number of major business schools are trying to tackle the challenge by forging strong links with their counterparts in the engineering arena. In California, for example, the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the engineering school at the university share joint classes and programs to help bridge the knowledge gap. In New York state, the Johnson Business School has created the Cornell Center for Technology Enterprise and Commercialisation, which helps students and alumni to develop ideas generated by its university's engineers and scientists. And at MIT, perhaps the country's foremost technology hub, links between the university and the business school have helped create more than 25,000 companies employing approximately 3 million people and generating as much wealth as the world's eleventh biggest economy.

In Europe, the EM Lyon business school has taken the view that the mix of the technical and commercial also needs fostering earlier on in a career than at the conventional MBA stage, and on an international basis. The school has partnered with the Krannert School of Management, the business school of one of the US' leading engineering schools, Purdue and one of China's foremost research universities Zhejiang for the Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP). Described as a "pre-experience" programme aimed at first degree graduates with little or no work experience, the GEP is particularly targeted at potential students from scientific or engineering backgrounds.

Patrice Houdayer, the instigator of the programme at EM Lyon argues that it's essential to put any new invention into a business context as early as possible in its development and to start thinking of its potential, not just on a domestic, but a global scale. "Start-ups used to have to develop through a very definite series of steps, from garage to local to national to international," he says. "Today the internet has given them a platform to go worldwide almost immediately, but while that brings a whole new set of business opportunities it also presents new problems and challenges. The Global Entrepreneurship Program is designed to tackle this by giving them the requisite understanding of how to build a viable company and, at the same time, plugging them into a global network of contacts and showing them the different ways that business is conducted in major markets around the world."

By taking the "techie" out of the lab or workshop and equipping them with the commercial skills they so often miss out on, it's just possible that business schools may be developing, not just the next James Dyson, but even the next Jobs, Gates or Zuckerberg. But Patrice Houdayer warns that schools will never be able to develop something that isn't there in the first place: "It doesn't really matter when a student comes into an entrepreneurship programmes, whether it's at the MBA level or earlier on. What counts is that the person is ready for the experience and is going to do something with it. We can develop entrepreneurs but we'll never be able to manufacture them from scratch. It's down to the individual to do the analysis and decide whether they have the drive and the will to make a new enterprise work or whether a large corporate environment is where they should make their career."

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Humanities Teacher

£110 - £135 per day + Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone: Outstan...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 primary supply teacher ne...

General Cover Teacher - Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Qualified Teachers needed for Supply in t...

Nursery Teacher - Grimsby

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Job opportunity for Nursery Suppl...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering