Tech entrepreneurs bemoan academia-industry barrier


Several of the young entrepreneurs speaking at this week’s Emtech 2011 conference were executives from established companies–Jeff Hammerbacher, chief scientist of Cloudera and Judd Antin, research scientist at Yahoo (s YHOO). But many more were academic researchers working on everything from robotics to vehicular networks to hardened “crash free” software for embeddable devices.

The problem is that moving technology from “pure research” to business–making it commercial– is trickier than ever as the recession persists, according to speakers at the show.

“There’s a big barrier to interaction between academia and industry,” said Bhaskar Kirshnamachari, associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California’s department of computer science.

“Where I have interacted successfully with industry– with General Motors (s GM) and Bosch (s RBOSCH:GR) is where I could talk to a researcher at the company — (company researchers) can act as a buffer…they can communicate with those actually doing product development.”

The problem with that scenario is that many companies are cutting back on their own research teams to save money, so there are fewer points of contact between academics and industry.

“Something has to change in the weight industry gives to research or maybe there has to be more funding from the government,” Krishmachari said.

On the plus side, some companies are  “open sourcing” or publishing important information about their own tech infrastructure and that could be a huge boost to development and adoption.

“The bright shining example of that is Facebook open sourcing their data center design,” siad Dan Berkenstock, co-founder and chief product officer of Skybox Imaging.  Giving companies incentives to open source more of their R&D effort could foster more third party development. “I”m not sure if that’s a government thing or a company thing but if we could ensure standardization we could allow even greater crowd sourcing on a lot of this work.”

Skybox is building “microsatellites” that it hopes can funnel more high-resolution earth images to users.  “The exciting thing is we don’t know what emerging services will be exactly but we’re opening it up to larger sets of developers and that means more people to solve the problem of making sense of all the data around us.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Dan4th

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