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To Stimulate Economic Development From Universities, Government Should Bolster Research And Infrastructure, Not Fund Start-Ups

Michael Alvarez Cohen

The most effective way that governments can leverage the potential of universities to drive economic development is for political leaders to focus resources on supporting great university research and building a robust entrepreneurial infrastructure. However, in pursuing economic stimulus, governments (and universities themselves) sometimes resort to funding companies spun-out of universities as well as sponsoring “translational research” conducted on campuses. Indeed, funding start-ups has the allure of fast results—i.e. the direct creation of companies and jobs; and sponsoring product development under the cloak of translational research has the appeal of being practical. But, creating a government or university system for supporting start-ups and product development doesn’t leverage the time-proven ability of an entrepreneurial ecosystem to deftly evaluate, fund and grow companies. This ecosystem works best when an extensive pipeline of innovative research is coupled to an educated pool of entrepreneurs within a robust infrastructure of services. Government programs that seek to circumvent, instead of foster this ecosystem, more often result in taxpayer money that is wasted on short-lived ventures that don’t create profitable products and spawn new industries.

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