By Maher Hakim (Managing Director at Qatar Science & Technology Par)
I have recently been involved in several discussions about commercialization of research. At the core of these discussions is one question: "How can research institutions take their inventions and scientific discoveries to market?" Consultants' presentations I sat through are filled with fancy slides with big words: innovation, knowledge economy, intellectual property, technology readiness level, maturation, etc. They all suggest that moving from research to marketable solutions is a simple sequential process - one that, if followed "properly" by a research organization, with the right set of policies and procedures, will surely lead to good returns.
What I find missing from all of these presentations is an understanding that organizations are, at the end of the day, human institutions. Each institution is governed by its own set of incentives, culture, processes, etc. And each is guided by a set of "best practices" that are established for the "category" that best fits it. Success factors that measure the organization's performance are typically set against its competitors and peers within that category. These best practices and performance metrics - crucial to determining the organization's competitiveness and self-worth in a certain category (i.e, research) - are usually the exact same ones that make it difficult for it to morph into an organization that can compete in a different category (i.e, product delivery).
Let's take a look for example at the business software technology industry and its "value chain". For breakthrough research in computing to become part of a useful application for a customer, three types of organizations are typically involved: research institutes, product companies, and consulting/services firms. Similar value chains exist in other technology-based industries as well (consumer mobile, biotech, clean tech, etc.), leading to the following conclusion: for a scientific discovery or a breakthrough research to reach a user/customer, different "categories" of organizations (i.e., human institutions with different missions, success metrics and cultures) need to be involved.