Ideas and Insights from Engineering, Science, Medicine and Arts
Edited by Satish Nambisan
Chapter 4: Physics entrepreneurship: an evolution from technology push to market pull
Physicists are not natural born entrepreneurs. Yet physics-based entrepreneurship plays an important role in innovation and the transformation of American industry in just about every sector of business. We derive those conclusions from our eight-year study of physicists in large-scale industry and our five-year study of physicist entrepreneurs. The History Program at the American Institute of Physics spent nearly eight years studying physicists in large high-tech companies, interviewing physicists and R & D managers at 15 of the top 25 employers of PhD physicists in an attempt to understand physicists’ roles in industry. Our report documented the shifting role and nature of R & D in major high-tech corporations during a time when the premier industrial R & D centers appeared to be in decline, if not on the verge of disappearing. Among other things we tracked the shift in corporate R & D from knowledge creation to knowledge acquisition. As it became evident that in-house longer-term research no longer drove innovation in the corporate world, we wondered where that new research was being done and how the corporate world acquired innovative knowledge. Of course some of the research came from research institutions – government laboratories and university research centers – but more frequently interviewees told us that university and government research, broadly speaking, was not ready for prime time industrial innovation. It still needed to be “de-risked” before it could enter the marketplace.
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