Most higher-ed institutions recognize the importance of innovation, but few universities have taken steps to create roles for chief innovation officers, who focus on reaping revenues from innovation, according to new research.
Though most research universities have a technology transfer office (TTO) that helps bring new discoveries to market, a dedicated innovation officer is not as common–but that’s changing, according to The Emergence of the Chief Innovation Officer in Higher Education, a new report from Russell Reynolds Associates.
But the emergence of the chief innovation officer position is spurred by various changes in higher education. As government funding declines, as nontraditional education opportunities increase, and as educators focus on how students learn best and turn to new learning experiences, some universities are rethinking how they position their institutions.
(Next page: What does a chief innovation officer position look like?)
“Between 20 and 30 percent of the top 50 U.S. universities have created senior cross-campus innovation roles, such as chief innovation officer; vice chancellor for innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic development; or vice president for new ventures,” according to the research.
These new leadership positions are intended to stimulate innovation throughout the campus, create environments to foster entrepreneurial efforts, and to ultimately maximize revenues from innovation.
There are challenges associated with creating such a new position, and the precise title and responsibilities will differ at various institutions. But while differences exist, there are similarities.
Senior leadership position: Owing to the mandate to stimulate innovation across all departments, leaders in this role normally sit outside of–but adjacent to–the typical academic infrastructure, reporting directly to the president or provost to ensure close collaboration.
Strategic rather than transactional: In contrast to the rather transactional remit of technology transfer offices, this role is strategic and aims at driving and maximizing revenues from innovation by:
- Building, enhancing, and growing an innovation ecosystem across all university departments, improving entrepreneurial capabilities, and providing services normally associated with business incubators to stimulate innovation;
- Actively engaging with potential partners in government, finance (mainly private equity and venture capital), business, philanthropy, and the scientific community to promote investment in research and innovation and to link entrepreneurs to potential funders;
- Increasing discovery outcomes by encouraging multidisciplinary and multidepartment collaborations;
- Linking university ventures to outside business incubators; and
- Fostering an entrepreneurial and innovative culture across the department.
Universities will need to determine how best to capitalize on their innovation and research knowledge to forge successful new business models.
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