Science and business go together
“Over the past twenty years, the notion that scientists can also be entrepreneurs has become accepted and even something to aspire to. Now the topsector plan and the government’s trade and industry white paper (bedrijfslevenbrief) are also, and rightly, emphasizing valorization by academic institutes. It is not either/or. Especially in the health-related life sciences, science and business (must) go together.
We have seen much progress. We have pre-seed grants, innovation credits, smaller and larger investors – the network is there, even if parts of it can be more professional. For the short term, I have two worries. The first concerns the government’s commitment to public-private partnerships. Discontinuing their funding is a relatively easy way to economize in times of austerity – and the temptation is quite understandable – but it eliminates the basic funding for research valorization. Entrepreneurial research groups and SMEs would especially feel the loss. My second worry is related: are we giving enough consideration to those life sciences and medtech entrepreneurs just starting out? Tax breaks for R&D are great, but of no help if you have no profits to pay taxes on and deduct investments from.
We need to get the entrepreneurial blood flowing through the arteries of academia. That means allocating responsibility for research valorization to a member of a university’s board. It also means relating a (small) part of their budget to valorization success, as suggested in the topsector plan. The first time could be in, say, five years’ time on the results of the preceding ten years. That would give every institution time and incentive to get results. We would also have time to agree on a practical measure of valorization success.
There is no contradiction between scientific research and enterprise. Not even for very early technology. One example is the Topochip. Researchers in Twente are studying how the surface structure of medical implants impacts the behavior of cells: whether they will attach themselves, grow, or in the case of stem cells develop into the required cell type. With a Pre-Seed Valorization Grant, these researchers have commercially launched a chip that can test the impact of almost 2,200 different structures at once. Such analyses allow manufacturers to better and more quickly optimize their implants, resulting in better quality and fewer complications, and the researchers themselves can further advance their understanding of the principles at work. That is entrepreneurial science at its best. We should strive for more.”
Stirring the entrepreneurial spirit of science
- Preserve basic public-private funding for research valorization in some form
- Make sure policy supports and stimulates early life sciences and medtech entrepreneurs
- Tie part of university funding to valorization success
Clemens van Blitterswijk is a professor of tissue regeneration at Twente University, where he is scientific director of the Institute of Biomedical Technology and Technical Medicine. He is chair of the Netherlands Forum for Regenerative Medicine, a council member of the European Chapter of TERMIS (Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society), a member of the Advisory Board of the Netherlands Technology Foundation, and a member of the Netherlands Academy for Technology and Innovation. He has co-founded multiple biomedical companies, including IsoTis where he was CEO. He was part of the team that developed the Life Sciences & Health topsector plan.