Must start a company to be a succesful Stanford professor?

The president of the ACM comments on the culture that prevails at the Stanford CS Department:

“What sets Stanford apart is the startup culture,” said Patterson, the Berkeley professor, adding, “I have this sense that it’s an almost unwritten rule that you have to start a company to be a successful professor at Stanford.”


Can you imagine if professors were strongly encouraged to start companies? If the commercial success of their ideas was viewed as something really positive?

Crazy ideas like this could change academia forever.

The problem, of course, is that when they tried to do it, in Canada, people started fake companies just to get the grants and the net result was just a waste of time for everyone involved. By “start a company”, you have to mean more than “incorporate”.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

3 thoughts on “Must start a company to be a succesful Stanford professor?”

  1. Really? McGill discourages it? I’m not entirely surprised.

    What is needed is a culture of entrepreneurship and you can’t make it up. You need to start rewarding people who take risks, and keep on rewarding them time and time again until the train starts.

    Right now, in most universities, if you go for a start-up instead of a Ph.D., you are choosing the lesser path. If after your Ph.D., you go for the start-up instead of the research job, you take the lesser path. Universities will also not hire someone who has been in industry for some time.

    It is really hard to change something like this. Universities are extremely conservative.

    But the business world is also partly to blame for this. You need more compagnies like Google where employees are encouraged to do research.

    If university prof X say that company Y gets some research done, he might have a better view of the role a company can play in the research ecosystem. Right now, companies are seen as “dumb players” which can’t even comprehend, let alone use the research results. Companies need to turn the tide and show that they not only can read research results, but they do so routinely, and they keep on applying the finest techniques to come out of universities. And sometimes, even often, they massively outgun universities as far as innovation goes.

    I don’t know how to pull all of this together though. Other than starting another Google and paving the way. But am I smart enough to start a Google? Nah.

    Well, at least, we’ll always have Google… or will we?

  2. I wish things were more like that; I was previously a graduate student at McGill, where the university actually DISCOURAGED us (prof and grad students) from starting a company.

  3. Stanford may be smart enough to not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. But I suspect that at a lot of schools, roughly the following would occur:
    the school tries to get more and more oversight over these start-up companies, perhaps with the rationale of making sure the company is for real. Then, they’ll start trying to charge the companies money on any grounds they can come up with, perhaps implict use of university resources. Things like this are happening already, look at any engineering department.
    On the other hand, the universities now have to pay people enough salary so they don’t usually quit to run their company full-time, so there would be an upward pressure on university prof salaries (and the universities’s costs).

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