Radical innovation from the confluence of technologies: Innovation management strategies for the emerging nanobiotechnology industry

This paper co-authored by Prof. Elicia Maine, Dr. V. J. Thomas and Prof. Jim Utterback and published in the Journal of Engineering and Technology Management presents a detailed examination of radical innovations from the confluence of technologies with a specific reference to innovation management strategies for the emerging nanobiotechnology industry. 

Maine’s co-author on the papers and part of the international research collaboration, V.J. Thomas has recently been accepted for a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship to continue researching the emergence of the nanobiotechnology sector.  As part of Thomas’ two-year Mitacs Elevate Strategic Postdoctoral fellowship he is required to work with an industry partner, thereby maintaining a direct link with his research and its impact on industry. Thomas has partnered with CDRD Ventures Inc., the commercialization arm of The Centre for Drug Research and Development, which has a focus on transferring technologies from university to industry, and setting up new firms.

Thomas’ fellowship, for which the Beedie School is the academic partner, builds on much of Maine’s nanobiotechnology research collaboration’s work, which previously had identified the biotechnology and nanotechnology firms across the globe. Thomas’ proposal will investigate both multinationals and de novo firms within the sample and interview scientists to establish how they approach nanobiotechnology research and commercialization.

“At the end of this post doctoral fellowship we will be able to provide a nuanced understanding of how nanobiotechnology innovation works within different firm types,” says Thomas. “We will be able to suggest some best practices for these different firm types – practices that they can use to improve their innovation activities.”

Ideas @ Beedie Article


The emergence of the nanobiotechnology industry

Our team comprising of Prof. Elicia Maine,  Associate Professor and Academic Director Management of Technology MBA, Beedie School of Business; Dr. V. J. Thomas, Beedie School of Business Postdoctoral Fellow and a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi; Dr. Martin Bliemel, Australian School of Business at the University of New South Wales; Armstrong Murira; and Jim Utterback, David J. McGrath jr. (1959) Professor of Management and Innovation at MIT has recently published a paper “The emergence of the nanobiotechnology industry” in the January 2014 issue of Nature Nanotechnology, a journal that has an impact factor of 31.

Gathering data on firms with both biotechnology and nanotechnology capabilities across the globe, we track the emergence and evolution of this rapidly growing industry.

“We have watched the ecosystem emerge in terms of the number and type of firms entering the industry,” said Maine. “This confluence of technologies in the emerging nanobiotechnology sector is enabling radical innovation, new products and connections that didn’t exist before. Some of the things we’re talking about are effectively targeted drug delivery, nano-scale tissue engineering, enhanced medical diagnostics, and enabling new therapeutics.”


Ideas @ Beedie Article

Global Bio-Nano Firms: Exploiting the Confluence of Technologies

Armstrong Murira, Elicia Maine and V. J. Thomas

New research by Prof. Elicia Maine and her co-authors (MIT’s James Utterback, Professor of Management and Innovation, Sloan School of Management and Professor of Engineering Systems; V.J. Thomas, Postdoctoral Fellow, SFU and IIT Delhi; Martin Bliemel, Lecturer at the Australian School of Business, University of New South Wales; and Armstrong Murira, Simon Fraser University PhD student, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry) highlights the economic ramifications of the confluence of the biotechnology and nanotechnology sectors.

In the paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston on 18th February 2013, they show that the confluence of biotechnology and nanotechnology is giving rise to start-up ventures, commercializing science and technology developed in university research labs.  One of the reasons that there are companies forming around the opportunity created by this confluence of technologies is that larger firms have known organizational disincentives to commercializing radical innovation.  So small science-based ventures have a better chance of success when commercializing radical innovation, disruptive technology, and – they argue – in integrating disparate technology streams.   For example, they notice that de novo bio-nano ventures (those formed around the integration of these technology fields) often have founders who have dual competencies themselves in these fields. So when the founders have these capabilities themselves, it is easier for the research teams of start-up bio-nano ventures to integrate diverse knowledge streams.

AAAS 2013 Symposium: Confluence of Streams of Knowledge: Biotechnology and Nanotechnology

“Birth of a new sector”: SFU-MIT study shows technology start-ups driving burgeoning bio-nano industry

Bio + Nano = a whole new sector


Knowledge Diversity in the Emerging Global Bio-Nano Sector

As scientists are able to understand and manipulate ever smaller scales of matter, research in the fields of biotechnology and nanotechnology has converged to enable such radical innovations as lab-on-a-chip devices, targeted drug delivery, and other forms of minimally invasive therapy and diagnostics. This paper provides a descriptive overview of the emerging bio-nano sector, identifying what types of firms are entering, from what knowledge base, where they are located, and their strategic choices in terms of technological diversity and R&D strategy. The firms engaged in bio-nano research and development span the range from start-up firm to multinational pharmaceutical, biotech, chemical, and electronics firms: two thirds of bio-nano firms are relatively young and relatively small. The United States dominates this sector, with more than half of all bio-nano firms located in the USA. Even within this sector which epitomizes the convergence of technology, there is a broad range of technological diversity, with the most diverse firms overall coming from a base in electronics, the most diverse start-up firms coming from a base in nanomaterials, and the most narrowly focused firms coming from biotechnology/ pharmaceutical base. We find that hybridization has been the dominant knowledge diversity strategy, with 93% of the bio-nano firms with nano-patents holding multiclass patents.

MIT ESD Working Paper 2012-20

MRS Proceedings 2012

What Role Does Scientific Human Capital Play?

In a recent working paper that I have with my collaborators Poornima (National University of Singapore) and Kwang (Melbourne Business School), we study how biotech firms benefit from collaborating formally with their partners, such as universities and other biotech/pharmaceutical firms, while they invest substantially in their scientists, who also collaborate informally with their esteemed peers in the scientific community at large. The findings of our study reveal that not all investments in scientific human capital and R&D collaborations generate returns to the biotech firms (an abstract of our paper is available in the article column).

The premise of our study is that the performance effects of R&D collaborations with different types of partners (firms versus universities) differ depending on whether the scientific human capital (firm scientists) of the firm bridges open and proprietary science. Traditionally, proprietary and open scientific models are quite distinct. However, the production of modern science in industrial firms today is governed by interconnected norms of open and proprietary practices. Contrary to the industry movement that all firm scientists should be trained to conduct commercially driven science, we find that pure scientists who conduct basic research play an even more important role in biotech firms as long as these firms continue to rely on external collaborations for the development and commercialization of academic discoveries.

GBN Welcome Dr. Martin Bliemel

GBN Welcome Dr. Martin Bliemel

Dr. Martin Bliemel

This month, our bionano research group welcomes Dr. Martin Bliemel as a collaborator. Martin Bliemel is a Lecturer in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and is apart of the School of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the Australian School of Business.  He is also the Director of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), which administers the Diploma in Innovation Management, a multi-disciplinary undergraduate diploma, unique to UNSW. Martin’s research is on the use and development of entrepreneurial networks and his research interests include the following:

Recent Publications 

  • 2010 Bliemel, M., McCarthy, I., Maine, E. ‘A Typology of Entrepreneurial Network Configurations: Integration of Network Structures and Flows’ 7th AGSE International Entrepreneurship Research Exchange, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia (ISBN: 978-0-9803328-6-5)
  • 2009 Bliemel, M., McCarthy, I., Maine, E. ‘In Search of Entrepreneurial Network Configurations: Using Q-Analysis to Study Network Structures and Flow’ in Closing the Innovation Gap: Theory and Practice. Proceedings of the 4th European Conference on Technology Management, Dekkers, R. (ed.); 6-8 September 2009, Glasgow. Paisley: University of the West of Scotland, 2009 (ISBN: 978-1-903978-41-2). (Winner of the overall Best Paper Award, sponsored by Arthur D. Little)
  • 2008 Bliemel, M., McCarthy, I. ‘Networks of dedicated biotechnology and service firms in Vancouver’ Journal of Commercial Biotechnology (dx.doi.org/10.1057/jcb.2008.17)
  • 2008 Bliemel, M., Maine, E. ‘The Impact of Embeddedness on the Performance of New Technology Based Firms (NTBFs): A Literature Review’ International Journal of Technoentrepreneurship,1(3), p. 313-341 (dx.doi.org/10.1504/IJTE.2008.020542)
  • 2007 Bliemel, M. ‘Embeddedness and New-Technology Based Firm Growth: A Study of New Technology-Based Firms in the Vancouver Biotech and New Media Clusters’. In F. Chee (Ed.), Location-based Awareness: Research on local systems of innovation in the Greater Vancouver Regional District (pp. 60-73). Compendium published by the Centre for Policy Research on Science and Technology, Simon Fraser University

GBN Welcome Rung Tai Wu

This month, our BioNano collaboration group welcomed RungTai Wu to the research program.  RungTai is a PhD student with the Institute of Technology Management at the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan.  Rung Tai holds an MBA from National Chung Chen University and a Bachelor of Industrial Design from Feng Chia University.

RungTai’s research interests include: 

  • Inter-organizational cooperation
  • Strategic alliance
  • Merger & Acquisition
  • Dynamic competition
  • Social network analysis
  • Biotech & Pharmaceutical industry

Select Publications and Conferences:

Hsi-Mei Chung, Rung-Tai Wu, Chia-Cheng Chen, 2006, “The Challenge and Opportunity of Taiwan’s Micro-Fluidic Biochip Industry,” Industry and Management Forum, vol.8, no.2, pp.101-117, (in Chinese)

Bou-wen Lin, Rung-Tai Wu, 2010, “The Effect of Industry Network Structure on Firms’ Merger and Acquisition Behavior”, Academy of Management Annual Meeting, Montreal, Canada

Hsi-Mei Chung and Rung-Tai Wu, 2006,”The Challenges of Duplicating the Taiwan’s Semi-conductor Industry Experience in Bio-technological Industry: A Network Theory Viewpoint,” 12th Asia Pacific Management Conference (APMC), Bangkok, Thailand (Oral Presentation)