Universities don’t exactly have the best reputation in the tech world. Most are stuffy institutions, full of academics who care more about their paycheck than making the world better. Many academics would rather shoot down a novel idea that actually investigate it to see if it’s possible.

But that might be about to change - at least at top universities. Back in 2006, the University of California dedicated a room to fledgling startups. It wanted to provide an environment in which they could work on their own projects. The university began leasing out equipment and lab space in the hope that it would drive innovation. Startups got access to equipment they would never have been able to afford. And the University of California made a bit of money on the side renting out the space. It was a win-win. And the best bit? There were no tenured academics in sight.

Renting Out Equipment



Making the space available to startups proved to be of enormous benefit. Of the first six businesses that used the facilities, four managed to attract venture capital funding.

Other universities have followed suit. They’re now investing heavily, especially if they see something like a laser cutter for sale. The American Academy of Sciences says that unis were responsible for incubating over 522 startups this year. They were also responsible for more than 13,000 patent applications. Just at the University of California, there have been more than 900 startups formed since 2000.

The Public Role Of Universities Is To Provide Equipment

Wikimedia Commons

Because of this success, many people are now saying that it’s the duty of the public sector to let others use its equipment. After all, much of it was paid for using tax payer’s money. Now there’s a movement to bring the world of entrepreneurship and the world of academia together. Academics desperately need some of the drive and passion of entrepreneurs. And entrepreneurs occasionally need the negativity and pragmatism of academics.

Of course, historically, there has been a strict separation between the two realms. Entrepreneurs were always the tinkerers and inventors. And academics were always the ones that created the theory and the general framework for thinking about issues. What happened at the University of California shows how bringing the two worlds together can be beneficial.

New Technology Resulting From University Incubators

Take some of the recent inventions that have come out of university institutions that make our lives better. What about Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI? That’s certainly come in handy for the millions of people who go to hospital for scans every year. Or what about the Hepatitis B vaccine? Again, that’s helped thousands of people avoid suffering from an otherwise incurable disease. You could add sweet strawberries and robot dogs to that list too.

Because universities take so much from society, they also need to do their bit to give something back. Tech incubators provide a way for them to do just that. Universities must work with the best and the brightest to come up with solutions to today’s global challenges. Only then can we get the future society that we want.