New research shows that science at MIT is significantly more collaborative than it was in the past; Trend might also be linked to MIT's start-up phenomenon

Technology transfer is presenting many opportunities for MIT Sloan students

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 4, 2009 — Just like other top business schools, MIT Sloan has top management teaching and research initiatives, but unlike its competitors, Sloan also offers more significant opportunities for collaboration across departmental borders. New research by Sloan professor, Fiona Murray and her student, Michaël Bikard, a 2nd year PhD candidate in Technological Innovation & Entrepreneurship, shows that such cross-departmental scientific collaboration at MIT is on the rise. The two chose to study MIT because it seemed to be in advance of other scientific institutions in terms of collaboration as well as technology transfer, i.e. reaching across the university boundary to industry.

Their research finds that the average Science and Engineering project is more than 30% larger at MIT than at other US universities in terms of number of collaborators. Cross-departmental collaboration in particular is expanding rapidly. For instance, in the early 1980s, only 20% of the authoring teams from the Science and Engineering departments they analyzed (Biology, Chemistry, Material Science & Engineering, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering and Chemical Engineering) crossed department borders, while today, that figure is over 35%. Their collaborations are also reaching into a broader set of disciplines and further afield than in the past: the number of projects involving at least 3 MIT departments has jumped from 1.5% at the end of the 1970s to 7.4% in the beginning of the 2000s.

Last fall, Bikard and Murray presented their findings on the different modes of technology transfer across MIT departments at the Technology Transfer Society (T2S) Annual Conference in Albany. They explored technology transfer as a market, with demand for technology coming from the industry and supply coming from MIT researchers. They found large heterogeneity in the use of different channels, from consulting and research collaboration to patenting and entrepreneurship. In effect, their model moves beyond current assumptions that all technology transfer is similar and equally effective in order to give greater insight into the processes at work moving ideas across the academic-industry boundary.

“MIT is a hothouse of ideas that circulate between departmental borders and this unique circulation makes entrepreneurship more possible than at peer institutions,” says Bikard. One illustration of this is that multi-disciplinary teams that include members from technical disciplines and from Sloan have proven to be by far the most successful competitors in MIT's annual $100K Entrepreneurship Competition where teams of student entrepreneurs submit business plans for new ventures for.

The results of such ambitions are striking. Bikard and Murray's research shows that MIT has loose borders not only between schools and departments, but also between institute and industry. In addition to producing high-quality research in collaboration with academic colleagues worldwide, a very large proportion of MIT faculty is actively involved in publishing research with scientists from the business world. In the six departments mentioned above, more than 50% of the faculty publishes together with industrial partners

According to the AUTM 2006 Licensing Survey, MIT, which has the oldest university Technology Transfer Office in America (founded in 1940), had 23 spin-off start-ups, disclosed 523 inventions, and issued 121 patents in 2006 alone, ranking it the premier American university in all of these fields. Since science at MIT is transferred into the business community via students moving into industry, patenting and entrepreneurship (by faculty and students), Sloan acts as a vital bridge. Courses such as i-Teams (innovation teams) developed by the Deshpande Center at the Engineering School and now taught at Sloan by Professor Murray aims to enhance these bridges by bringing Engineering and Science PhDs together with Sloan students to work on projects that develop a commercialization plan for MIT technologies.

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