Creating new growth engine for the future
Stanford University is known for student ventures, and from 1930 to 2011, 30 percent of its graduates have started 40,000 companies, employing 5.4 million people. These startups grew to become global companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Apple. Lately, the Korean government is paying attention to startups as new growth engines for the national economy. But the ecosystem for startups is still not prepared, and the 10-year survival rate is less than 10 percent.
Many of the small and medium-sized businesses that survived the competition were started by entrepreneurs who accumulated experiences and human networks at large conglomerates and established companies. It is very rare for a company started by a new college graduate to succeed. It is hard to have leadership, responsibility and global insight needed for business.
The “laboratory start-up” by professors and students as a team at universities is a good case of reducing risk and enhancing professionalism. Such cases are often seen in universities in developed countries. However, the link between Korean university education and industries is so weak that such a partnership is unfamiliar to many.
Systematic issues also hinder such ventures. In assessing professors at engineering and science departments at Korean schools, publication in international journals is the most weighted criterion, so professors focus on publishing over education. Still, their results are not very satisfactory. Last year, the government invested 17.8 trillion won ($15 billion) in R&D, and 70 percent of the science and technology researchers are affiliated with universities. However, only 14 articles by a Korean lead author or corresponding author have been published in top science journals like Nature, Science and Cell.
Annual professor evaluations rate education, research and service and give no recognition to startup contribution, so only a courageous professor would pursue the adventure of a laboratory startup.
In developed countries, universities support the business ventures of new technologies developed by professors and students. Through partnerships with local government agencies and large corporations, new technologies are put into commercial use, and the venture ecosystem is developed. Industry veterans with field experience should be hired as university faculty members, and laboratory startups need to be supported to create new growth engines for the future.
*Shin Dong-woo, CEO of Nano Co. and professor of nanoscience and material engineering at Gyeongsang National University