The Conference Board of Canada published its innovation report card (http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/details/innovation.aspx). According to the report, Canada has performed poorly among its peer group. The Board lists the following key messages for its report:
- Despite a decade or so of innovation agendas and prosperity reports, Canada remains near the bottom of its peer group on innovation, ranking 13th among the 16 peer countries.
- Countries that are more innovative are passing Canada on measures such as income per capita, productivity, and the quality of social programs.
- So far, there are no conclusive answers—or solutions—to Canada’s poor innovation ranking.
In this post, I will comment on one area: commercialization.
Canada receives “B”s in two metrics: New Firm Density and Public R&D Spending. Also, it scores a “B” in Ease of Entrepreneurship Index. The pitiful scores in the rest of the metrics indicate that while Canada has a good enough mechanism to produce good input to its innovation pipeline, but it fails to move opportunities to the finish line. This is a failure in commercialization.
The failure is not due to lack of trying but it is due to poorly conceptualized and poorly implemented solutions. The Board, in my opinion, wrongly recommends that “universities should take a leadership role in developing individuals with both specialized financial analysis skills and expertise in managing commercialization.” There are many expensively failed examples of universities trying to handle commercialization. One should first ask whether universities and arms-length institutions to universities ever successfully established a systemic commercialization mechanism. The answer is, unfortunately, no! In spite of a rather miserable track record, university-affiliated commercialization institutions continue to gobble up millions of dollars of public money. The solution to this problem is not to create institutions inside institutions, with many directors and lofty but unfulfilled mandates.
We already have better examples in privately established organizations. Take Extreme Startups (http://www.extremestartups.com), for example. A small and nimble organization with a much better track record of commercialization than multi-million-dollar university-affiliated public institutions.
My personal experience with entrepreneurs, although a small sample size to be statistically significant, indicates that entrepreneurs prefer to work with small and nimble organizations instead of their bloated public cousins.
So, here is a simplistic solution idea: Dismantle all publicly established, university-affiliated commercialization offices and support private organizations that serve the purpose of commercialization. A results-based funding system would separate the real performers from money-suckers. Naturally, establishing such a system requires more in-depth work than I can fit into a reasonable-length blog post but it is not rocket science (I should know as I used to be a rocket scientist).
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