Do researchers lack entrepreneurial spirit or are they the victims of system failures?

So when you think your research could make a difference and help improve people’s lives, what stops you from developing your idea into a reality? Is it:

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Or is it a mixture of all of them?

How can we encourage entrepreneurial skills in researchers if the environment they are in prevents them considering the commercial potential of their ideas?

When I joined the university, many years ago, I was amazed by the research that was being carried out, by people like Professor Sheila McNeil, which had such practical applications e.g. reducing blindness by improving cornea surgery and developing materials to improve the healing of ulcers and burns. The researchers had such clear visions of how their research would help others and worked with external partners to make it happen. These partners could include global companies and other countries governments. This is research at its best in my opinion. I have always been proud of working at a university that has such amazing stories to tell about the impact of its research.

All well and good for our leading professors who can attract funding to meet their research vision, I hear you say. But what about the post graduate/doctoral researcher who has an idea based on their research? Is the system so against them that they do not try to take it further? Are they put off by not being able to easily access funding themselves? Would they really rather just move onto the next project than explore the potential of the last project? Are they downtrodden by supervisors who do not nurture their spirit and encourage any possible commercialisation?

This is going to be the focus of a piece of research that is being carried out over the next year at the University of Sheffield, supported by funding from Enterprise Educators UK.

We want to find out what the barriers are and suggest a way forward. This is not just a problem at our university but others as well. At a recent conference I attended, there was a common consensus that it was hard to engage post graduate students in enterprise skills.

Is the problem even as basic as there being a misunderstanding over why they should learn enterprise skills if they do not want to set up a business?

I think we are missing a big trick if we do not develop our researchers to think in a way that explores the potential of their research, and make it easier for them to know what to do next, even if they do not want to take it forward themselves.

So what do you think?

Feel free to join the conversation and comment below