Proposition #9

“A valorisation center is useless by definition: valorisation is a state of mind that should be spread throughout an entire organization.”

You might wonder what I mean with valorisation, as this is not a very well known concept outside of universities (and even within). The term originally comes from Karl Marx and basically means it has proven to be worth money:

In German, the general meaning of “Verwertung” is the use or application of something (an object, process or activity) so that it makes money, or generates value, with the connotation that the thing validates itself and proves its worth when it results in earnings, a yield. Thus, something is “valorized” if it has yielded its value. (Wikipedia)

In the context of research, this means a certain output (a tool, method, technique, patent) has been successfully brought to market. I don’t know about other countries, but in the Netherlands, this is a hot topic for universities. Our university is quite successful in creating spin offs, our incubator YesDelft currently has over a hundred startups (although not all of them are necessarily spin-offs, they can also be started by employees or students unrelated to their research)

And, we even have a valorisation centre that is responsible for encouraging and realizing valorisation.   They employ lawyers  have connections with industry and organize competitions like ‘the most entrepreneurial scientist’ While this is all very nice, I believe that, if you want to realize valorisation, researchers need to do this. Let me explain this, with this graph from the great book Crossing the Chasm (if you are currently ‘valorizing’ or considering this, read this book!).

This is the typical life cycle of a high-tech product. Moore argues that the most difficult step in this life cycle is the transition between visionaries (early adopters) and pragmatists (early majority). This is the ‘chasm’. If a startup can gain enough traction to cross it, then the majority will follow. I would say that research typically happens around dot 1 in my own adaptation of this graph below.

chasm

 

At dot 2, we find highly practical research, like software engineering is: It sometimes happens that tools we build are used outside of the university, by a small group of innovators. In my opinion, 3 is the realm of valorisation.

Skills that you need to market your product before and after the chasm differ greatly. After the chasm, it is about standardization in order to achieve scale. Before the chasm, you need to connect with your clients personally, you need to understand their problems and speak their language.  I argue that the ‘valorisation’ step is everything before the chasm, since the inventor (the researcher) has exactly these qualities: he knows the problem and the companies and people who suffer from this problem. He is the person that should bring a product to the chasm. From there, other qualities are needed and the market can take over. Not only does the researcher have these qualities, I think he is the only one with the qualities required to do this. People outside of the domain (like the ones working at the valorisation center) won’t have the connections or knowledge to get products to those early adopters.

Given a university wants more valorisation (I am not saying it should, I am not taking a stand on that one here) what you need are researchers who are willing to do. This is not necessarily benefiting researchers (yet) as it will be time consuming and won’t lead to papers, so you need researchers who really want to do this, just because they want to deeply understand whether their invention will work in practice and how innovators and early adopters react. So, if you want valorisation, hiring (and eventually evaluation) policies need to change in order to attract researchers who love implementing ideas in real practice. Compare this to writing papers: while we have some courses on writing, we don’t have a ‘publication centre’. Publishing is a core competence, and we only hire researchers who can and will excel at this. I believe the same holds for valorization.

So let’s stop spending tax payer’s money on people who are not actually valorizing anything. Maybe move some of the valorisation people to recruiting, this is where they can make a difference. And then let’s stop talking about it and start valorizing stuff.