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Partnering for discovery and profit

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DANIEL MCCARTHY, SENIOR EDITORIn the lexicon of over-applied marketing jargon, somewhere in between “smarketing” and “synergy,” you’ll find the word “solutions.” It’s common parlance for marketing folks because a solution sounds more salable than a product or service. Solutions equate with answers, and answers sell.

And yet, businesses cannot develop valuable solutions if they are inattentive to the market’s burning questions, which helps to explain why, in the U.S., the business sector funds about 70% of overall research and performs 73% of the work, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The NSF further reports that the U.S. business sector leads in applied research, both in terms of funding (54%) and practice (57%). This also makes sense given applied research’s focus on solving practical problems that yield a more certain return on investment (ROI).

Basic research, in contrast, focuses on the exploration of new and untested ideas. This can still provide tremendous value to business. But basic research is a much longer-term investment than applied research, and its higher tolerance for trial and error translates into more risk than the commercial market favors.

Consequently, institutions of higher education perform most of the basic research (48%) in the U.S. and other countries. Most of the funding in the U.S. (42%) still comes from the federal government, but between 2000 and 2017, the business sector’s share of funding ticked up from 19% to 29%.

Mirroring this trend is the rising number and variety of industry-academia partnerships — a topic that science writer Michael Eisenstein explores further in his feature here.

Businesses can leverage these partnerships to enhance their research budgets, while academia, in turn, can license or otherwise monetize the most successful products of its research programs. Such partnerships also provide an active network from which employers can recruit students with proven hands-on practice in relevant product technologies.

The domain of photonics is more deeply invested in basic research than many commercial sectors. It has also fielded a greater number of mature commercial technologies than much older scientific disciplines. The line connecting theoretical physics and product advancements is much clearer in photonics. Industry-academia partnerships help to make that line much shorter and more direct.

Photonics Spectra
Aug 2021

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