Enterprise is not about the money.

Let me say that again; enterprise activity – contract research, spin-outs, consultancy, service contracts, intellectual property and all that jazz – are not about the money.

Yes – they involve generating income and often through commercial activity, but enterprise is no more about generating income than research is about getting research grants, or education is about securing tuition fees. Now, of course, it feels like it is sometimes, and the money is important, necessary, sometimes exciting, but it’s not why we do any of these things.  

We do research, education and enterprise to deliver on the Faculty’s and University’s social mission. To create social, cultural and economic value for peoples in our immediate community and around the world. This is true across the University and I believe especially so for health-related enterprise.

As with health-related research and medical education, the problem is that money is easy to count whilst social value is hard; worse still for enterprise is the seductive opportunity to release your inner Gordon Gekko or Deborah Meaden. But let me put it this way. I work in the Wessex Institute, the University’s biggest enterprise unit by far. I don’t see any Gordon Gekkos or Deborah Meadens walking around. I see people committed to investing in patient involvement, not returns on investment, I see people get excited by how research leads to healthier communities, not healthier balance sheets; and I see people trying to make the world a better place, not make money.

But here is the funny thing. Although the Wessex Institute is not driven by the desire to make ‘loads-a-money’, but by a common sense of purpose that is about making a difference, we generate around 50% of the entire University’s consultancy income and return a healthy surplus to Faculty coffer each and every year. So, if you don’t focus on enterprise as a money-making activity, it seems that you actually end up making quite a lot of money. And the reason is quite simple. In general, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. They wouldn’t buy our desire to make money, but they will buy our desire to make a difference. And they do. So next time you think about whether to engage in enterprise, think not whether you want to make money – let’s be honest would you be an academic if you did –  think whether you want to make a difference to society

Enterprise is not about the money – by Professor Matt Westmore

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