Japanese venture into business partnerships with industry

May 16, 1997

Hokkaido University in north Japan is to establish a business investment fund to attract capital for manufacturing and marketing the products being developed at the university's research laboratories and workshops.

Funds from business sources, campus officials say, will invigorate research activities and provide researchers with additional cash.

The Tokyo Institute of Technology also recently launched an initiative to promote joint commercial ventures with outside companies. Tsutomu Kimura, the university's president, stated: "The campus should be a place which spawns research results that lead to business initiatives," .

The two programmes are part of a wider attempt by Japanese universities to promote venture businesses on or near their campuses. Traditionally Japanese universities have preferred to stay aloof from commercial activities because of fears for their academic independence.

"Japanese universities are trying to narrow the gulf between academia and society and, at the same time, develop what they hope will be profit-making enterprises," said lecturer Masao Nishioka.

The new partnerships are providing students, researchers and lecturers with opportunities to become more familiar with the business side of product development. Several universities, including Nagoya, are offering doctoral graduates the chance to manage their new venture business laboratories.

The ministry of education has been encouraging the initiatives by providing funds for new laboratories and equipment. Tama University in Tokyo, meanwhile, has initiated courses for training students to be entrepreneurs. Its venture business course includes lectures about product development, financing and marketing.

Business leaders and entrepreneurs are being hired to help prepare and deliver the new programmes. Several universities are also sending officials to study successful university-industry partnerships at campuses in the United States and Europe.

With undergraduate enrolments expected to slump during the next decade many universities hope that venture business initiatives will provide them with new sources of funds for expanded research programmes.

Politicians have welcomed the initiatives which they say will help to make Japan a stronger industrial nation in the 21st century, able to compete with the United States, Europe and newly industrialised East Asia.

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