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Recent Research: NBER working paper finds discovery team more important to successful commercialization than financial environment

March 18, 2021
By: Connor LaVelle

Having interdisciplinary teams of scientists and relationships with “star” entrepreneurs are factors that can influence the chances for academic discoveries to reach the commercialization stage. While proximity to capital has traditionally been viewed as the core stimulus for academic commercialization, a recently released working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research reexamines the variables that play a role in the commercialization of academic sciences, and provides new insight into the importance of team composition throughout the commercialization process.

In their approach, authors Matt Marx and David H. Hsu control for “latent commercializability” and technology differences to provide a more level field for analyzing the roles of variables such as munificent financial environments and team composition. By studying over 20,000 ‘twin’ discoveries, pairs of academic research that resulted in similar findings, the authors were able to explore what variables led to successful commercialization while balancing out the influence of the latent commercializability of the research.

Through this ‘twin’ empirical approach, the authors find that munificent financial environments (such as proximity to venture capital investors) have less impact on the commercializability of academic discoveries than traditionally thought. The composition of the discovery team plays a larger role; teams whose members have experience with commercialization or gain input from ‘star’ entrepreneurial peers were found to have far more success in reaching the commercialization stage of their discoveries.

Likewise, interdisciplinary research teams were also found to be a positive contributing factor towards a discovery’s ultimate commercialization. Hsu and Marx note that interdisciplinary research teams can provide a wider array of perspectives, elevating the project’s opportunity recognition with potential funding sources. The authors also note that when scientists from a diverse range of fields are included, the research team’s network of entrepreneurial peers and potential capital sources may be equally diverse, in comparison to teams whose researchers share one field of study and whose network is limited to the connections developed within that sector.

As states continue to work towards developing environments conducive towards academic research commercialization, the NBER report can provide new insights into how policymakers can best support these goals. Through their research, Marx and Hsu have provided an evaluation on the roles and importance of a scientific team’s composition and its entrepreneurial experience. They shine a light on the value of growing and retaining a diverse and experienced stable of researchers and entrepreneurial networks while noting its significance surrounding the ultimate commercializability of an academic project.

The full NBER working paper can be found here.

recent research, commercialization