Models for Successful and Sustainable Research Centers

New report highlights 16 best practices for academic research centers—and 16 ways for centers to fail.

Models for Successful and Sustainable Research Centers

WHAT DOES IT take for a university- based research center to be financially sustainable over the long term? A report from IESE Business School’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center in Barcelona, Spain, highlights 12 models that centers might adopt to achieve economic stability while preserving the quality of their research.

The 40-page report was written by Josemaria Siota and Antonio Dávila of IESE, in collaboration with Xavier Contijoch of the consultancy firm Opinno. Other collaborators include the European Commission, the National University of Ireland Galway, Roma Tre University, European Young Innovators Forum, accelerator VentureHub, and the language translation service Translated.

The research team’s four-year analysis of 3,881 research centers in 107 countries indicates that a research center’s work generally consists of three phases: research (discovery), transformation (invention) and commercialization (innovation). In the initial research phase, centers work against their economic sustainability when they fail to support knowledge sharing among researchers or establish key performance indicators to help them measure progress toward their goals. During the innovation phase, they might have unclear business models, lack distinct brands, or be hindered by internal bureaucracies.

In all, the report presents 16 potential causes of failure, and 16 best practices that centers can adopt to address them. In addition, the report shares 12 successful business models, with examples from centers within universities, industry, and government.

One successful model includes licensing research, such as SAP has done with its licensing fee structure. Another includes the holistic consideration of research impact, as Massachusetts Institute of Technology does at its Deshpande Center, which uses holistic metrics to track its impact over time.

The authors’ goal is to eliminate systems of “broken innovation,” which too often lead to center closures. By adopting “linked innovation,” academic centers can ensure that they pursue research with economic value to their markets and ensure their doors stay open for years to come.

Read “Technology Transfer: Commercializing Discoveries at Research Centers Through Linked Innovation.