What happens when scientists become entrepreneurs?

​In his doctoral thesis, Marouane Bousfiha explores how “academic entrepreneurs” combine the two very distinct roles of being both academic scholars and for-profit entrepreneurs. The findings suggest that the academic entrepreneurs actively learn and develop from being in two different worlds.

What challenges do you focus on?

“Being both an academic researcher and a startup founder means frequently transitioning between two jobs that are governed by different values, norms and expectations. As academics, these individuals are expected to transparently share their results with a community of peers, consistently seek truth rather than financial or personal benefits, and actively expose their work to public scrutiny. As entrepreneurs, they are expected instead to privilege secrecy, uniqueness, and the maximization of personal gains.”
“Combining these apparently different roles can be confusing and challenging. Yet, an increasing number of academic scientists are creating startups to commercialize their research results. In my research, I ask questions such as: ‘What is it like to simultaneously engage in these two lines of work?’ And ‘what can we learn if we compare the experiences of scientists from two different contexts, such as Chalmers and Stanford?’”

How do you address this challenge with your research?

“One of my research aims is to understand how academic entrepreneurs manage to combine their roles and in so doing construct a coherent professional identity. Given that many universities are aggressively promoting new initiatives to stimulate academic entrepreneurship, a lack of such detailed understanding of how university researchers live through the process of commercialization can cause the implementation of policies that are ineffective or even counterproductive. In contrast, a better understanding of how professors concretely experience being startup founders and university researchers could inform more fitting policies and guidelines in this regard.”  

What were the main findings?

“By actively engaging in entrepreneurial work, academic scientists learn how to identify and nurture cross-fertilization effects between the tasks and activities involved in both roles.
For instance, they report how their long experience with writing research funding applications made them really good at pitching their ideas to investors, and how their experience leading and managing research groups at the university better prepared them to manage their startup employees. They also describe how their research and teaching got positively influenced as a result of their exposure to relevant and real-world problems in the startup.”

What do you hope your research will lead to?

“Instead of focusing on macrolevel explanations, I chose instead to study the actors who are at the front line, and whose everyday actions are creating the change towards more entrepreneurship in the university. I hope that my research can provide useful insights to institutional actors – e.g. policy makers, university administrators, public funding agencies – who are trying to design policies that are attuned to the practical realities of academic entrepreneurs.”
Text compilation: Daniel Karlsson
The thesis defence will be online on Zoom, 25 May at 13, find link here

Published: Fri 12 Jun 2020.