Academic Entrepreneurship: Bridging the Gap Between Knowledge Production, Discovery, and Application

Academic entrepreneurship is a relatively new term that is gaining traction within academic circles. In my view, it refers to the creation of new organizations and institutional forms within academia and industry, aimed at solving problems for a particular audience. Academic entrepreneurship focuses on innovation, which is about problem-solving and providing value to those who are willing to pay or find the problem important in their lives.

It is not just about commercial entrepreneurship, which is focused on creating new businesses with the dividends going to a few actors. Yes, it does include that, and the traditional infrastructure, such as technology transfer offices, but in my view, it is much broader. Academic entrepreneurship is also about contributing to academia as a whole by creating new journals, departments, or conferences, with the goal of solving problems and staying connected to knowledge production and knowledge discovery.

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Benefits of Academic Entrepreneurship

Academic entrepreneurship is beneficial because it extends the academic field in knowledge production and discovery. It is not just about technology transfer, which is focused on converting knowledge into commercializable technology. Instead, academic entrepreneurship looks at the institutional voids that allow for effective knowledge discovery and production, beyond licensing patents for large multinational firms. Far too often, it is simply view as a patent production factory.

To ensure effective knowledge production and discovery, new organizational forms that better reflect the changing knowledge landscape need to emerge. Academic entrepreneurship also ensures effective problem-solving that may not be possible without creating organizations that match actors together to solve a broader problem.

It is important for academics to engage in academic entrepreneurship because it ensures the continued production and discovery of knowledge. It is not simply about profiting from the production of knowledge, but also about ensuring that knowledge production and discovery continues unabated given environmental changes that may limit or moderate knowledge production and discovery. For example, we may need individuals to step up and lead important centers that counter broader cultural changes.

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Problems Faced As an Academic Entrepreneur

Academics face several obstacles when starting their own ventures. While many people think that a lack of financial resources is the most significant barrier, the most important obstacle is determining whether a problem exists that they can solve. They need to identify if people find the problem significant and if they are willing to invest in the solution.

Another obstacle is the recognition that existing institutions are often focused on their own missions and may not support academic entrepreneurs. The more an academic’s venture differs from the existing institution’s focus, the more problems they are likely to encounter. The academic community may also be unsupportive since it mainly focuses on research, narrowly defined within knowledge production.

To succeed, academic entrepreneurs must convince stakeholders that their problem exists, is valuable, and worth investing in. However, some stakeholders may never see the value in their venture, making it even more challenging.

Academic entrepreneurs may also lack various business skills and knowledge needed to successfully run a new venture. They should learn about marketing, finance, operations, and other key business areas or partner with someone who has complementary skills. Time management is also crucial as they need to balance academic responsibilities with entrepreneurial pursuits.

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Tips for Becoming an Academic Entrepreneur

For academics who are interested in becoming academic entrepreneurs, it is essential to realize that they are filling institutional voids through problem-solving. This means that they will not fit in with the existing infrastructure, and they will likely feel alone and face an uphill battle. There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty and ambiguity that they are facing, and it is their job to bear / resolve this uncertainty and ambiguity.

Start Small. The simplest way to get started is to use small experiments to see if people would even be interested in what they are doing. It is essential to focus on moments where they currently feel uncomfortable or it is difficult to talk about, as these are the most important areas that require change. For example, people always wonder why something does not exist, but no one will speak up to actually create this organization because it requires too much work.

Academic entrepreneurs should also recognize that they do not need to spend a great deal of money up front. The goal is to create as small of an adventure as possible. They need to be persistent, given considerable adversity. The academic community, while accepting of many new ideas, is highly critical and skeptical of these new ideas. Academic entrepreneurs have to build social influence by continuously pushing at the problem despite what critics might say. As a consequence, they need considerable fortitude to make this change that is not being recognized at the larger institutional level.

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Examples of Academic Entrepreneurship

Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM)

There are several examples of academic entrepreneurship that have had a significant impact. One such example is the development of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), a project aimed at assessing the level of entrepreneurship in various countries. The GEM project was started by Babson College and the London Business School in 1997 and has since expanded to cover more than 100 countries. It has provided valuable insights into the level of entrepreneurial activity in different countries and has helped policymakers design programs to promote entrepreneurship.

Khan Academy

Another example is the Khan Academy, an educational website that offers free online courses on a wide range of topics. While not strictly created by academics, it serves an important academic function. The website was started by Salman Khan, who began tutoring his cousin over the phone in 2004. Khan eventually started making YouTube videos to explain concepts and began uploading them to YouTube in 2006. The videos became so popular that Khan was able to quit his job as a hedge fund analyst and focus on creating the Khan Academy full-time.

New Academic Journals

Another example of academic entrepreneurship is the creation of new academic journals. Academic journals are the lifeblood of the academic community, as they are where new research is published and disseminated to the wider world. However, the traditional academic publishing model can be slow and expensive, with many journals requiring authors to pay steep fees to have their work published. As a result, some academics have taken matters into their own hands and created new journals that are better suited to their field. These journals are often run on a shoestring budget and rely on the hard work and dedication of volunteers, but they can have a huge impact on the academic community by making research more accessible in an emerging field.

Research Centers

Another example of academic entrepreneurship is the creation of new interdisciplinary research centers. Traditionally, academia has been organized around disciplinary boundaries, with scholars working in silos within their own fields. However, many of the most pressing problems facing society today require interdisciplinary approaches that bring together experts from multiple fields. This has led to the creation of new research centers that bring together scholars from diverse disciplines to tackle complex problems such as climate change, healthcare, and inequality. These centers often require a significant amount of institutional entrepreneurship to get off the ground, as they may face resistance from established disciplinary structures and may require new funding models and administrative structures to function effectively.

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The R3ciprocity Project

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the R3ciprocity project, which is itself an example of academic entrepreneurship. The R3ciprocity project is a peer-to-peer platform for academic feedback that allows scholars to exchange feedback on their work with other scholars from around the world. This project was created by me because I recognized a problem in the traditional peer review process, which can be slow and difficult to get feedback. By creating a new platform for peer feedback, the R3ciprocity Project is helping to democratize the academic publishing process and make it more accessible to scholars around the world.

In conclusion, academic entrepreneurship is an important and growing area of interest within the academic community. By using their knowledge and expertise to solve problems and create new organizational forms, academics can have a significant impact on both the academic community and the wider world. While academic entrepreneurship can be challenging and uncertain, it also offers the potential for great rewards in terms of intellectual and societal impact.

If you are an academic interested in becoming an academic entrepreneur, my advice would be to start small, focus on a problem that you are passionate about, and be persistent and resilient in the face of adversity. With hard work and dedication, you too can become an academic entrepreneur and make a meaningful contribution to the world of knowledge production and discovery.

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