Commercializing Academic R&D

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

August 17, 2023

As beacons of intellectual achievement, academics and the institutions that support them—such as universities and research centers—have played a vital role in advancing human knowledge and fostering critical thinking. More importantly, they facilitate research that advances innovation, addresses complex multisectoral problems, and helps develop solutions to improve society.

In pushing the boundaries of knowledge, academics contribute to scientific discoveries and advancements in technology, paving the way for a deeper and more progressive understanding of the world. Many groundbreaking advancements in various fields, such as medicine, engineering, the social sciences, and more, can be attributed to academic research and the rigor and creativity that underpin it.

Examples abound of academics whose work has made a decisive impact on the larger world. Emmanuelle Charpentier, a microbiologist, and Jennifer A. Doudna, a professor and biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing system, which allows scientists to make precise changes in the long stretches of DNA that make up the code of life for many organisms, including people. Often described as genetic scissors, the system has been used by plant researchers to develop crops that can withstand pests and drought. It has also been shown to help the agriculture sector withstand increased climate change impacts. And in the field of medicine, the gene editing system has enabled new cancer therapies, while allowing researchers to cure certain inherited diseases. “It is being used all over science,” said Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

Meanwhile, Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed the PageRank algorithm, the core technology behind Google’s search engine, as part of their research at Stanford University. This academic research laid the foundation for one of the world’s most widely used search engines.

These examples not only demonstrate how pioneering research can profoundly change the human experience; they also reveal the commercial viability of many areas of study. Too often, however, academic researchers find it hard to commercialize their work. Striking a balance between conducting academic research and commercializing it to advance societal interests is critical to supporting and incentivizing impactful studies across various fields. What can global leaders do to address this and what role does the public-sector play in commercializing academic research? 

Such and many more topics will be discussed in the Horasis Global Meeting, which is scheduled to take place in Gaziantep, Türkiye between 22-23 October 2023. The meeting will bring together the world’s foremost business leaders, who along with government officials and representatives from international organizations will brainstorm with senior members of the Horasis Visions Community in finding solutions to critical challenges facing corporations and societies today. In particular, the focus will be on Türkiye, which has recently suffered a severe socioeconomic setback due to the earthquake that hit the country in the first week of February 2023. 

Steps to Commercialize Academic R&D

As we have seen, knowledge and innovation generated through academic research can be turned into viable products, services, or technologies that can later be brought to market. This process stands to benefit both academia and industry — first, because of the funding and resources that commercialization brings to academic and research institutions, and second, because of the innovation it engenders across multiple sectors. But commercializing research is a complex process, requiring forethought, creativity and collaboration among key stakeholders.  

Academics in collaboration with industry leaders and with support from government organizations can follow these steps in effectively commercializing academic R&D:

  • Identifying and focusing on viable research projects that have a clear market need is the first step in ensuring the realization of potential commercial applications with wide market use.
  • Developing and establishing a strong IP framework that protects research outcomes through patents, trademarks, copyrights or trade secrets is a must to prevent innovation theft, and also to increase the attractiveness of academic research funding among investors.
  • Before embarking on the commercialization of academic research, a well-thought-out business plan needs to be developed outlining the commercialization strategy, target audience, competition analysis, revenue model, funding requirements and a product or service to market timeline. 
  • Commercializing academic research also requires assembling a team with diverse skillsets including researchers, business professionals, legal experts, marketing specialists and entrepreneurs.
  • Collaborate with industry partners or established companies that have the expertise, resources, and distribution channels to bring the innovation to market. These partnerships can provide funding, access to customers and guidance on product development.

Investing in Türkiye’s R&D Sector

Investing in Türkiye’s R&D sector is crucial, particularly in the aftermath of a devastating natural disaster. Enhancing the country’s R&D could lead to improved earthquake prediction and monitoring systems, which can help mitigate the impact of future earthquakes.

Türkiye will also need to invest in new construction materials and techniques that can help make buildings more resistant to earthquakes and reduce the damage caused by them. Also, the country will need to invest in improving emergency response systems, including search and rescue operations, medical care and disaster relief efforts.

Building resilience in communities by improving public awareness, developing educational programs, and creating disaster preparedness plans should also be considered. A collaborative approach that considers feedback from all key stakeholders and aims to rebuild with a view to sustain should be Türkiye’s next plan of action.

Photo Caption: Academic R&D must be nurtured in Türkiye.