How To Become A Commercially Successful Academic (Part 1)

By: Olumuyiwa Oludayo, Ph.D                                                 

How do you become a commercially successful academic? Many academics consider financial success through maximising the economic potential of their world-class research in industry as an unplanned and welcomed by-product.

The subject of wealth has mostly been linked with the business sector. The wealthy from other platforms of influence such as education and religion are always viewed with suspicion.

In this article, Dr. Olumuyiwa Oludayo tried to establish the source of wealth linked to academics and seek to use this as a source of inspiration to those pursuing academic careers.

Academics need to know that there is enormous economic value in their profession if only they knew how to harness the potentials. Wealth is an opportunity to manifest wisdom, excellence, and proficiency. It gives the possessor of resources the platform to provide leadership. Wealthy people also use their wealth to maximise time and consolidate on their good habits.

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The academic that will be wealthy must understand that all wealth begins with accumulating income. Income in itself is generated by providing service that is paid for by the beneficiaries of the value it brings. Academics will accumulate wealth knowing that wealthy people are those that have carved a niche for themselves. They know their areas on interest and are committed to making their utmost contribution to life in those areas.

This article is not an attempt to show academics their duty over finances; rather, it is an attempt to show them the path of wealth as long as they choose to remain in academia. The examples that I have shared here will serve as boosters of the pursuit of academic impact with significant economic value.

  1. SPINOFFS. The research works of academics oftentimes reveal viable products, models and services that have huge economic potential. However, because this is not the main thrust of many academics, it dies and never finds the light of the day. A spinoff is an incidental outcome or discovery that solves other problems or meets needs besides what was what originally expected from a primary engagement whose initial objective was not to find this by-product. Academics must know how to capture these unintended economic vehicles which are derivatives of their research prowess to produce for them greater resources that their primary research goals can lean on. One major way these outcomes have been captured is by the formation of companies whose ownership takes on several forms from a sole proprietorship to partnership and Limited Liability Company. A number of academics that have benefitted from their spinoffs include Brian Bellhouse. He is the inventor of PowderJect, a needle-free injection system for delivering medications and vaccines which spun off from Oxford in 1993. The invention was later sold to Chiron, a US drugs group for £542m and Bellhouse benefitted from it based on his 3.6% shares in the founding company. Another academic that benefitted from his research work to begin work in a spinoff is Sir Tom Blundell. He co-founded Astex Technology whose drug products came from his academic work where he was studying the structures of biological molecules. The company was sold in 2013 for $886million. Professor Steve G. Davies is a Chemist that funded his first spin-out company in 1992 by remortgaging his home – it went on to sell for £316 million. In showing that academics is his primary engagement, Professor Davies set up different management teams to run his spinoff companies while he maintained his academic ties at the University of Oxford, UK. Professor Peter Jenner of King’s College London started his spin-out company Proximagen while working on optimising L-Dopa-based therapies for Parkinson’s disease. The company was sold in 2012 for £356.8m and brought income for King’s College whose investment at the time was 3.5%. His work was considered a productive offspring. A list of academics abounds in articles that have explored the pathway to wealth for academics beyond their classrooms and laboratory.
  2. INVESTMENT IN STARTUPS AND CORPORATIONS. Scholars that have found the pathway to wealth have also explored investing their resources in start-ups. These start-ups are not direct derivatives of research but ideas which may have originated from interactions between actors in the academia, i.e. students and faculty. The start-up may be formed by a faculty going solo, or a group of faculty members or better still a mix of students and faculty. The start-up is built on the premise that the founders have found a service or product that can be offered to customers and clients for a fee provided there is an opportunity to scale the product. These companies are formed with an intention to grow big and outlive their founders. In 1991, at the University of California, Los Angeles, USA, a professor, Henry Samueli and his doctoral student, Henry Nicholas agreed to start Broadcom Corporation. With an initial investment of $5,000 each from the duo, the company has grown to become a Fortune 500 company with over 14, 000 employees as at June 2018 and a market capitalisation of $100billion. Today, Henry Samueli who has now withdrawn from academics is worth $4.3billion. The next example is 67 years old, Professor David Ross Cheriton. He is a computer science professor at Stanford University where he founded and leads the Distributed Systems Group. The current wealth of this academic valued at $6.2billion can be attributed to start-up companies that he has founded and/or invested in such as Google (investor) and VMware (investor). It is said that Professor Cheriton also co-founded (with Andreas von Bechtolsheim) Arista Networks, Granite Systems (which was sold to Cisco Systems for $220 million) and Keila (which was sold to Sun Microsystems for $90 million) founded at least 20 companies. The businesses that academics like Andy Hopper have founded contribute significantly to the amount of wealth attributed to him. His commercial activity has empowered him economically to own his own 6-seater Cessna and his house in Cambridge has its own airstrip.

To Be Continued Tomorrow

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