Outlook | Published:

University spin-offs

Nature volume 545, page S1 (18 May 2017) | Download Citation

Image: Jan Kallwejt

The arduous nature of a career in science is not especially suited to the pursuit of business ambitions. Science's raw allure — the intellectual force brought to bear on questions so difficult that no one thought to ask them, much less answer them — selects for a certain type of person. But starting a company demands a suite of skills and attitudes that are far from universal among scientists, from managerial finesse to a flair for building strong and productive relationships.

A substantial proportion of researchers harbour entrepreneurial ambitions. In a survey of Nature readers (go.nature.com/2pebi6m), 47% of the 815 people who responded to the question said that they would consider leaving academia to commercialize their research in a start-up company. However, few ever actually do so — a mere 6% of the 1,403 respondents reported having started a company. The greatest perceived barriers were financial risk and insecurity (cited by 72% of respondents) and lack of business skills (53%).

This Outlook presents a portrait of 22 start-up ventures that have emerged from universities around the world to turn laboratory research into practical, profitable products. This eclectic group of initiatives represents just a tiny fraction of the spin-off activity from the world's universities, yet spans a broad range of disciplines, from drug discovery to energy storage, rocket science and structural engineering. Not all have 'succeeded' — many are embryonic, and some have taken tortuous paths and have yet to turn a profit. But together, these stories make it abundantly clear that there are ample commercial opportunities for university research.

We salute these entrepreneurs — and the academic institutions whence they came — for showing so many ways to turn scientific investigation into practical innovations.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Chief supplements editor

    • Herb Brody

Authors

  1. Search for Herb Brody in:

About this article

Publication history

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/545S1a

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Newsletter Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing