startups often follow a different trajectory from their Western
counterparts. Between 1980 and 2000, the Chinese startup was a
university spinoff. Over the last decade, more universities have spun
off professors to head startups, Chen explained.
The problem with this
“professor spin-off” approach is that professors who come up with
innovations must shift gears from R&D to CTO, then manufacturing
boss and eventually CEO. Chinese startups often end up floundering
because most professors are not trained to do that. “Not everyone can
be a jack of all trades,” Chen noted.
“I have no intention to hire tenured professors to run projects or
startups,” he said. “We need entrepreneurs coming from outside who are
willing to take risks to lead projects and compete [for] national
Pay for professor/entrepreneurs will be based on their projects, not
out of the university’s payroll. Chen acknowledged that this Open
Innovation Platform creates an “unfair competitive advantage for PKU.”
The Platform is set up to offer PKU’s resources in technology, faculty
knowledge and post doc students to those who seek help in developing an
incubation process, he explained.
The university’s response to Chen’s tech transfer proposal has so far
been enthusiastic. Its embrace of the project derives in part from
Chen’s promise to finance startups on a “project by project” basis.
That approach could eliminate the importance of old connections and
favoritism, requiring a new merit-based model to successfully connect
investment with deserving projects that protect IP rights.
“China has money,” Chen reiterated, but “China needs rules of
engagement and China needs to make the process transparent” in order to
protect IP rights.
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