When academia meets innovation

In a few days, Israeli higher education will kick-off a new academic year. Alongside the well-known and traditional academic commitment for research – the modern era has created a new type of occupation in academia; innovation. I don’t mean “innovation” in the sense of new teaching methods or technological-innovative learning systems – but rather actual innovative institutions inside the campus.

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Top academic institutes around the world understand that innovation and entrepreneurship play a pivotal role in modern education. The majority of those institutes have accelerators, innovation centers, and entrepreneurship programs. For example Oxford, Yale, Stanford, Harvard, Cambridge, Princeton, Colombia, UCL, Berkeley. This phenomenon, of course, present in Israel, the academic institutes nurture innovation routes: University of Tel-Aviv (STARTAU), Ben-Gurion (Bengis Center), IDC Herzliya (Adelson Entrepreneurship), The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program), University of Haifa (HUstart), Sapir College (EXlab center) Ono Academic College (StartOno Accelerator).

In fairness, it is worth saying that even before those innovation centers founded, academia as a well-knowledgeable institute was still able to produce fertile ground for technological initiatives and ideas. Some of the most popular tech companies today (for example, Facebook) were born inside the academy walls before the establishment of innovation labs. However, given the existing situation and the growing number of the innovation labs worldwide- the institutions must operate them methodologically. Before we’ll present some important principles to do so – let’s shortly discuss why do they even need such labs?

It is clear that human progress encourages innovation, and academia cannot ignore it. At the organizational-academic level, there are several reasons for adopting the method, for example, the first reason sees the innovation-labs as an economic engine. Accelerators can produce sustainable technological products. Second, branding value. Innovation contributes to marketing-level institutions. Third, a magnet for new audiences. Innovation and technology labs are designed to attract new audiences. One way or another, academic institutions are not waiting. They build, assemble and operate advanced innovation laboratories. Israeli academic institutes also understand the value of nurturing entrepreneurship, as a “Start-up Nation” – its a must. Given this fact – the million-dollar question is how they can optimize and achieve a better value of the innovation labs? Towards the start of the new school year, several important principles can be enumerated.

Explore diverse populations

Proper implementation of innovation approaches requires academics to connect as many organizational functions as possible. The operation of innovation labs requires academia institutions to be sensitive to diverse populations. Not only for the diverse identity of the students who are involved in innovation programs but also for the target audiences who will enjoy the fruits of the labs. In other words, embedding innovation areas within the academy is a good way to start bridge social gaps and channel more academic capabilities to a diverse public.

Multi-program innovation encouragement

The academic sphere is complex and multilayered, there are many educational possibilities, courses, departments and programs running. For that reason, the entrance of innovation as a natural part of the organization isn’t an easy task. It is important to embed an innovative institution across all layers of academia. The institution must encourage as many factors as possible within the organization to utilize the innovation engine that operates within the institution itself. With the help of in-house advocacy, the gospel can reach as many factors as possible, even those who are considered traditional and who avoid innovations and upgrades.

Teach varied skills

The starting point of the innovation labs was pointed to the exact sciences and technological disciplines. Later, the academic sphere started a process of implement the innovation labs and accelerators to social sciences and humanistic areas. Inside the innovation labs, it’s important to do a standardization (in terms of the capabilities and tools available to users). Innovation labs better give a full set of skills for entrepreneurs. The developers must strive to expose the various diverse approaches. For example, entrepreneurs who practice a particular method over time – it is appropriate to expose them to tools from other methods and learn from the intellectual wealth of the academy.

Curriculum balance

Proper implementation of innovation approaches requires academics to connect as many organizational functions as possible. But will all due respect to modern innovation labs\accelerators, the academic institute as a deep root of traditional intellectualism. The balance between modern approaches to good traditional depths can be very useful. Furthermore, in many regions of the world, academic institutions are integrating innovation labs as part of the curriculum, thereby trying to bring students without technology orientation into the field. In this aspect, too, the balance between the student’s basic needs and personal desires for the University’s “new path” must be balanced – for the benefit of all.

Find the right pace

There is a significant difference between the in-depth pace of academic research and the pace of innovation and entrepreneurship (very fast) – these gaps require a reference.  Participants should make sure that the differences are understood for al parties. Expectations will be coordinated with them in both areas. In a situation where the innovation lab used to operate independently outside the academy, it is clear that the issue of time is irrelevant. However, because these are labs that often act as an in-house arm in academia, there is a concern that the pace of development and growth of initiatives will be slower (because it is within a large organization that is accustomed to working in a certain way). Therefore, innovation labs need to gain full independence and operate separately from other departments.

Trans-academic collaboration

One of the significant advantages of the academy is the global networking. The world of entrepreneurship, and of course the academy innovation labs can lean and channel their work through the academy’s peer network around the world. This has significant value for lab participants. Therefore, one of the most effective tools is finding partners from other academic institutions and other professional circles. As we have seen before, universities from a particular country that run innovation labs can certainly and easily collaborate with innovation institutions from other countries. For the achievement of common goals and the development of technology.

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Apart from the points, we have noted so far, academia as an institution is required to do what is best at it – to study and to explore. Implementing an innovation lab is not enough, totally not. In an era where changes occur very frequently, the academic institution must continue to examine the innovative dimension and, if necessary, implement the next big thing. Until then, innovation labs all over the world seem to have no simple task – to make the world a better place.

About the Author
Itzhak Mashiah is a Communication Researcher at the University of Haifa – Specializing in High-Tech, Innovation and Technology Industries. Itzhak is a senior strategic communication and marketing consultant of tech brands and also lectures in communication at Sapir Academic College.
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