National Science Foundation
National Partnerships for Managing Upstream Innovation: The Case of Nanoscience and Technology
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The Innovation Process "Valley of Death"

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The topic dominating discussions in boardrooms around the world is growth. CEOs agree that growth through new products and services is their number one strategic objective. A company’s innovation capabilities will determine its future growth potential. Winners in the highly competitive arena of global markets will be companies that base their new products on emerging technologies that come from nanotechnology research. However, companies are struggling to assimilate the new knowledge, create new product ideas, and create a business case for developing these innovations. The National Partnership for Managing Upstream Innovation investigates these issues and is addressing the challenges.

The National Partnership for Managing Upstream Innovation consists of a team enabled by a grant from the Partnerships for Innovation program at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The primary participants are North Carolina State University’s (NCSU) College of Management and its Center for Innovation Management Studies (CIMS), and the 225 industrial companies of the Industrial Research Institute (IRI). The team worked with the IRI to identify problems and issues that industrial innovation managers were having as they tried to cope with the infusion of federal funding into nanotechnology research at university and government labs.  This investigation showed that communications between industrial and university researchers lacked structure at the basic research end of the continuum and that existing research and development planning practices, such as “technology road-mapping” were inadequate.  In response to this need, NCSU researchers (with support from an NSF grant) adapted and redesigned a “tool” that was originally developed to support innovation planning at stages of technology development that are more advanced than is generally the case with nanotechnology.

The team contacted a number of NSF-funded nanotechnology centers, explained the new tool, and arranged to demonstrate it to industrial and academic teams at several centers. After an alpha test at Pennsylvania State University to debug the tool, and experimental testing at Purdue and Northeastern Universities, the preliminary results -- in the form of opinions expressed by both industry and industrial participants -- indicated that the tool promotes increased mutual understanding about research priorities, and can be expected to increase research productivity at the industry-university research interface. To augment this opinion data, changes in management practices and communication behaviors in these centers over time are being documented.

The National Partnership for Managing Upstream Innovation team is disseminating these results to practitioners by incorporating them into courses offered through the Innovation Management School, an executive education program offered by North Carolina State University and the Industrial Research Institute. Specifically, a prototype course has been run at Meadwestvaco (a major packaging company) on the creation of business opportunities from emerging technology.  Research findings are being presented in academic journals and symposia focused on innovation management.

 Partner: Industrial Research Institute

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