NC1100: Land Grant University Innovation Diffusion Enhancement

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active

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This project will identify and develop new strategies to increase the efficiency of agricultural innovation diffusion systems. Our focus is on systems for transferring innovation from universities to firms. Our basic approach is to engage participants with a technology-assisted faculty/investor matching program. Our target scientist will be a faculty member with promising new technology that could be applied in the agricultural sector.

There are many barriers to matching faculty with investors and/or firms interested in technology commercialization. First, for faculty, they may not be familiar with the industry where the technology could be applied. Faculty may not have experience or interest in “selling” their technologies. Furthermore, in some disciplines, faculty promotion and tenure decisions, as well as annual merit reviews can be tied to patent activity, such that incentives to patent are potentially driven by internal concerns rather than strict assessment of future commercial viability (Bercovitz and Feldman 2006; Bozeman 2000; Siegel et al. 2003). Second, from the university side, their intellectual property (IP) systems may discourage moving certain types of IP to market due to perceived high costs if there is not a clear and obvious path to success or if the tech transfer office lacks contacts in the appropriate sector (Debackere and Vergeulers 2005; Kenney and Patton 2009; 2011; Markman et al. 2005; O’Shea et al. 2005; Thursby et al. 2001). Through interacting with faculty before, during, and after the commercialization process we hope to better understand incentive systems and how they influence faculty behavior.

The challenge is to build better systems to match the researcher with rural firm owners, entrepreneurs, and investors who are positioned to move the innovation into the market. While researchers may have insights into potential users and some applications of their work which can also increase commercialization success (Hall and Link 2015), they may not have time or inclination to seek out or fully engage those contacts. Similarly, potential users of agriculture-related technology may not know where to enter the system, especially if the scientist who has something appropriate to their part of the agricultural sector is operating several states away and in a highly specialized field that is virtually unknown to most lay people. Land-grant universities are large, with many quasi-independent research activities, so it is difficult for a rural firm owner to know who to ask. These rural companies and entrepreneurs may, therefore, become frustrated in working with research entities. In short, the scientists with new innovations or the producer with a specialized need may not be able to navigate all the possible routes to effectively make available or possess an appropriate innovation. This leads to the well-known “Valley of Death”, in which good science is not taken up by society as rapidly or widely as its potential (Wolf et al., 2013). Society thus misses some feasible benefits that could arise from the research it has funded, which greatly impacts rural development and potentially also public willingness in continuing to support the research.

In summary, society will be better served by its investments in Land Grant research as a result of this project. A better understanding of the goals, incentives, and barriers various participants in the technology diffusion process experience will lead to recommendations for streamlining the system to improve the speed up technology uptake. Some short term impacts include earned media for the featured scientists and their institutions, and feedback to faculty on how to explain their innovations to potential investors.
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