Institutions as Stepping-Stones: Rick Smalley and the Commercialization of Nanotubes

Institutions as Stepping-Stones cover

Cyrus C. M. Mody
Studies in Materials Innovation
2010, Chemical Heritage Foundation
27 pp
Soft cover, 8.5 x 11

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The creation of the biotechnology industry in the 1970s brought a new feature to materials-based innovation: small, high-tech firms started by (or linked closely to) prominent academic scientists. Though there is a very long history of professors starting or consulting with science-based firms, the patenting of recombinant-DNA research by Herbert Boyer of University of California, San Francisco, and Stanley Cohen of Stanford University in 1980 marked a new, self-conscious era of professorial start-ups. With Boyer and Cohen’s patent the venture-capital industry expanded out of its most successful niche—funding spin-off firms from established semiconductor companies—and into financing professorial start-ups. Academic researchers, many initially ambivalent about commercial ventures, eagerly founded companies once they saw the fortune Boyer reaped in the initial public offering of Genentech. Legislation (most notably the Bayh-Dole Act) quickly passed to facilitate further academic start-ups.2 And regional economic-development offices in the United States and the world began cultivating clusters of professorial start-ups in the hopes of eventually rivaling Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area.

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