For a somewhat successful ecosystem, short-terministic partners must include risk capitalists (VCs and investors), the entrepreneurs themselves, a handshake with the industry and to an extent, government. But for long game innovations, the role of the academia (alternatively, Universities) cannot be overemphasized.
As a rule, Universities are built to serve a mission greater than any individual or short-term gain. Their stock-in-trade is the sheer adventure of ideas. What makes universities uniquely essential to the innovation ecosystem are the things that make them different from businesses and governments. Universities are built for collaborations, for learning and discovery, and for unlocking the imagination.
Responding to billionaire libertarian, Peter Thiel, and his beef against Universities, a science journalist, Tom Clynes, wrote in the New York Times, “We don’t have enough of the desperately needed inventions — nuclear fusion energy or cancer cures — that emerge when credentialed scientists tinker away for years on expensive machines that have nothing to do with Snapchat. Of course, this sort of tinkering most often happens in…academic institutions.”
Universities are powerful incubators for start-ups and technology transfer. When encouraged, their spillovers are what make their ways into innovation ecosystems. Deliberate academic participation provides us the opportunity to practice “inclusive innovation” in our technology innovation, thus enhancing democratic outcomes.
By this, we go beyond the narrow definition of a technology start-up and use innovation for the public good, opened up to address the broader range of issues we face as a society such as poverty, relevant education and inequality.
Universities in technology ecosystems: a case study of Silicon Valley and Stanford University
Foremost entrepreneurial tech ecosystem, Silicon Valley, has benefited immensely from the pivotal role Stanford University has played in building its tech industry. As the world’s eyes focus on the booming tech scene in Silicon Valley, Stanford’s affiliation shines brightly in the periphery.
Stanford shares a relationship with Silicon Valley unlike any other university on the planet, chartering a self-perpetuating cycle of innovation. But what’s at the root of this interdependency, and how did Stanford University, overcome its status as a second-rate Engineering school to become the world’s number 3 choice, outpacing some of the biggest Ivy League universities?
It started with a Stanford Academic, Frederick Terman, who had served the Department of Defense and led a team that attacked Germany’s radar system during World War II. Seeing the government’s eagerness to invest in cutting-edge electronics research, he secured sponsored projects that helped strengthen Stanford’s reputation in electronics and military technology.
When the Cold War began, Terman pushed for an Industrial Park at Stanford, to ensure a new revenue stream for the University, foster collaboration between the academia and industry, and ultimately, inspire students to start their companies. In a self-perpetuating cycle of innovation, industry folks took part-time courses at Stanford, while tech companies in return, offered job opportunities for Stanford grads.
Since then, over 40,000 companies have sprouted from the collaboration between Silicon Valley and Stanford including Google, HP, Yahoo!, Cisco, Uber, Facebook and Airbnb among others.
A survey of 2500 start-up founders in the United States here also revealed that Stanford graduates have received more funding than any other university in the world.
Little wonder Stanford and Silicon Valley have emerged the world’s leading tech talent pools.
Written by Temitope Osunrinde
Osunrinde is an avid technology stakeholder and has contributed to the narrative of West Africa’s most prominent broadband infrastructure player. He works in Lagos and can be contacted via [email protected]