|Prof. Joe Francisco|
Photo credit: purdue.edu
During my presidential succession, I have focused on one overarching theme—to ensure that aspiring chemists and seasoned professionals in the U.S. have the skill sets, resources, and external environment to build and sustain a robust workforce in the U.S. Given the historic levels of job loss in our enterprise over the past few years, including thousands of R&D jobs for chemists, [emphasis CJ's] I felt this was one of my most important priorities. [snip]
I appointed a task force charged with providing recommendations for how the American Chemical Society can play a vital role in helping the chemical enterprise in the U.S. remain the most innovative and entrepreneurial in the world. This Task Force on Innovation was headed by Harvard University chemistry professor and entrepreneur George M. Whitesides and consisted of eminent individuals from industry, academia, and government, all with experience in entrepreneurship.[snip]
The task force noted that the nature of innovation is changing. Over the past 15 years, the process of transforming ideas into marketable innovations within the chemical enterprise has undergone dramatic change. Innovation that disrupts existing competitive markets and creates new customers has slowed.[snip]
Nevertheless, large companies want to rebuild proprietary positions in high-margin products. They may not be innovating fast enough to compete globally, however, and they now appear to be turning to others to develop innovative products. The source of that innovation could be universities and/or start-ups. The task force found no intrinsic reason why chemistry start-ups could not be commercially successful and, in fact, documented numerous such enterprises.A couple of comments:
In light of these trends, the task force made recommendations that fall into four major categories.
- First, it recommended that ACS develop a single organizational unit—a “technological farmers market.” ACS is already doing much to help entrepreneurs, and these activities will continue. The new unit is envisioned as a one-stop virtual portal, supporting entrepreneurs by facilitating more affordable access to resources that would foster the creation of small companies from start-ups. Relevant resources might include information about how to start a company, management expertise, links to key services, and a list of potential mentors. [snip]
- Second, the task force recommended that ACS increase its advocacy of policies at the federal and state level to improve the business environment for entrepreneurs and start-up companies. The task force suggested that ACS urge and support reforms within the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to ensure more accurate patents and faster issuance. Incidentally, ACS has suggested to PTO that the society’s talented unemployed members might be of assistance to patent examiners. [emphasis CJ's] The task force also outlined a number of financial policies that could encourage large companies to partner with small ones to promote entrepreneurship. These include preferential tax treatment for repatriated income invested in U.S.-based developers of technology and making the R&D tax credit simpler and permanent.
- Third, the task force urged ACS to partner more vigorously with academic institutions and other relevant organizations to promote awareness of career pathways and educational opportunities that involve entrepreneurship. The task force had several interesting suggestions that will be pursued by staff and governance units.
- Finally, the task force determined that ACS should increase public awareness of the value of early-stage entrepreneurship in the chemical enterprise with focused media coverage and information targeted to federal agencies that support chemistry. In addition, ACS should provide ways to recognize entrepreneurs publicly in order to increase their visibility and enhance their opportunities for success.
Entrepreneurship again? At some point in the near future, I should do a survey of all the different solutions that people have suggested to improve the chemistry employment situation. Among the top five must be this thought that chemists need to found their own companies and strike out on their own. While I think this might be a stopgap solution that might employ a small amount of very experienced chemists, and a moderate amount of mid-career professionals and young chemists, I just don't see this as a broad-based solution. I hope I'm wrong.
I hear the microwave in the kitchen!: I suspect that ACS' policy has always been to support the idea that we should support "preferential tax treatment for repatriated income invested in U.S.-based developers of technology and making the R&D tax credit simpler and permanent." While I suppose this might (in a bank-shot fashion) help chemical entrepreneurs, I suspect that the effects will be pretty minimal.
An unalloyed good: I sense from the occasional ACS comments in C&EN that the senior management of the Society is aware of the dissatisfaction of their members due to the extraordinary economic circumstances of the moment. That Prof. Francisco (or his staff) is writing about the issue and attempting address it is good news; perhaps this fall, the new ACS presidential candidates can address the issue full-force.
Best wishes to all of us.