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Posted 10.12.05

The Center for B·A·W·B sponsored its second event Green Mountain Research Café on Wednesday, October 12th in Room 208 of the Peter B. Lewis Building. Hosted by B·A·W·B research fellow Dr. David Bright, the evening’s theme focused on Innovative Strategies in Global Sustainability Entrepreneurship.

With a focus on the process of entrepreneurship as related to the development of sustainable technological innovation, this research café explored the factors that allow for and foster the emergence of entrepreneurship that allow for innovation to create benefit in society. Panelists Dr. Cyrus Taylor, Ms. Lyndy Wertman and Dr. Bo Carlsson focused on the development of sustainable technologies and social entrepreneurship, using the university as an example of an environment where work toward social causes can find grounding.

Dr. Taylor, chair of the Department of Physics and director of several internationally recognized science entrepreneurship programs, led off the discussion by sharing how he discovered the importance of entrepreneurship in science. He traced his experiences of research in the 1990s in which he became involved with several former students in various business research ventures. One of the lessons for him was that most good scientists are very entrepreneurial: They always have to find ways to sell their ideas to sustain their work and obtain funding. This epiphany led him to seek avenues for training students in entrepreneurial skills in the university setting, buffering the likelihood of hard lessons of entrepreneurship in practice after graduation. To this end, he has been deeply involved in setting up several nationally recognized programs: the Physics Entrepreneurship Program; the Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Program; and the Institute for Technology Innovation, Commercialization, and Entrepreneurship. In addition, he has conducted research on the factors that contribute to the emergence of scientific innovation.

Representing the Wright Fuel Cell Group (WFCG), Ms. Wertman provided a living example of linking innovation to commercial endeavors. Ms. Wertman described the objective to foster research that enables the commercialization of fuel cell technology. For instance, WFCG has recently created a laboratory in which the group’s nineteen partner organizations may test their emerging fuel cell development efforts. In this way, the facility purchases expensive equipment that would be used only occasionally by partner organizations, who all share the common benefit. In addition, the WFCG is engaged in outreach efforts to further the practice of sustainability in the Greater Cleveland area, for instance, by offering up facilities to support hydrogen powered buses.

Dr. Carlsson tied the discussion together by providing an overview of the factors that allow for the emergence of innovation linked to entrepreneurial activity. In one important insight, he suggested that social entrepreneurship and economic entrepreneurship function in much the same way: They both address the need to find a stream of funding to support an idea or activity. He also proposed to that the focus sustainability “involves the continued ability to generate benefit,” and that this is very related to profitability. Entrepreneurship is important to both activities because if focuses on “how, by whom, and with what effects opportunities to create future opportunities are discovered, evaluated and exploited.”

The Research Café ended with a lively conversation that probed many of the issues raised.

Dr. Taylor noted that the culture of science seems to be shifting, and that it is becoming more accepted for Scientists to think about themselves as social entrepreneurs. “We have reached a breakthrough to no longer define non-academic researchers as pursuing ‘alternative careers’. . . to not treat 95% of our colleagues as lesser scientists.”

Dr. Carlsson provided a cultural comparison between university entrepreneurialism in the U.S. and abroad from the perspective of policy making. The U.S. and U.K support entrepreneurship by giving institutions the ownership of intellectual property. This provides institutions with an incentive to promote technology transfer. European institutions do not have this incentive because the laws provide that individuals own intellectual property. However, European education policies encourage scholars to collaborate with international colleagues at a much greater rate than U.S. counterparts.

All three panelists provide a perspective on the factors that allow for innovative entrepreneurship to emerge: developing a knowledge base, providing incentives that create entrepreneurial legitimacy, encouraging risk tolerance and experimentation, creating opportunities to obtain capital, and fostering social networks.

Sponsored by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, the Research Café is an opportunity for Case scholars to gather and discuss research related to the function of business as an agent of benefit in the world. Topics include fuel cells, public and private partnerships, environmental and human rights legal issues, management education at the intersection of business and society, and more. Each session is facilitated by a member of the B·A·W·B associate, and features a panel discussion followed by open dialogue.

Beginning in January 2006, the research cafe series will be held on the 2nd Wednesday of each month through May 2006. For more information please contact The Center for B·A·W·B at 216-368-3809 or bawb@case.edu.

By David Bright, Ph.D.

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