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Double roles as researcher and entrepreneur

2017-04-26

We asked some researchers at Uppsala University: Is it possible to keep your roles as researcher and entrepreneur separate? How do you do it?

Ulf Landegren, Professor of Medical Molecular Genetics at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology and founder of the company Olink. His lab has also given rise to seven other companies, including Halo Genomics and Q-linea.

Is it possible to keep your roles as researcher and entrepreneur separate?

“One of several tasks universities have is to interact with society, such as through the application of scientific advances in industry. There are therefore many advantages to uniting researcher and entrepreneur in one person. We have, for example, had success when we’ve applied for EU funding and had companies supporting the research. On the other hand, it is of course important to keep the researcher and entrepreneur roles separate so that researchers don’t smuggle research funding into their companies, for example.”

How do you do it?

“For my part, it’s quite harmonious. I don’t have any special schedule that I follow where I devote a certain number of hours to the company or to research, but instead much of it goes hand in hand. Our research has had a greater impact because the results could be made widely available through industrial channels.”

Claes-Göran Granqvist, Professor Emeritus of Solid State Physics at the Department of Engineering Sciences and one of the founders of the company Chromogenics.

Is it possible to keep your roles as researcher and entrepreneur separate?

“Yes, I think that you can. But to keep them separate, you must first understand that they are two sides of the same coin. In my experience, there is absolutely no conflict between conducting research and pursuing a business. The two are mutually reinforcing. Every head of research must be an academic entrepreneur, and entrepreneurial thinking is always in the mind of every head of research.”

How do you do it?

“I’ve been involved in companies for decades and there are some pitfalls. When we spun off the company Chromogenics, we made sure that the people involved with the business were not the same as those involved with research, even if all of them were working from the Ångström Laboratory. I was the only one with a foot in each camp. Perhaps the most difficult thing has to do with intellectual property rights of academic staff, which means that as a university employee, you own the results of your research. This can be a major concern, but if you make sure to have agreements signed before starting the business, you avoid this problem. But it is very important that the university has a well-functioning innovation system – which Uppsala University does.”

Marika Edoff, Professor of Solid State Electronics at the Department of Engineering Sciences and one of the founders of the company Solibro.

Is it possible to keep your roles as researcher and entrepreneur separate?

“It is essential to try to keep the roles separate and you have to struggle to do that. Research is very focused on publishing, while a startup company is not at all as interested in making its discoveries public, but instead wants to protect and patent them. In the academic world, it is also more meritorious to write articles than to create companies. This is something we need to look at ­– how we value third-stream activities – if this is something the university wants.

“It should also be pointed out that when you have a research team engaged in applied research, it offers excellent opportunities to apply for funding for joint projects in which the financiers require company involvement. But this also raises the question of how you keep the work separate when you’re involved in a single project with common goals.”

How do you do it?

“I stopped being directly involved in the company a few years ago when I was elected to faculty management, but until then I worked part-time at the company. That was a way to keep the roles separate. It is important to do things by the book and declare your secondary employment so that it is clear.” 

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Learn more:

Product development or research – how do you juggle the dual roles of researcher and entrepreneur?