Innovation and entrepreneurship in academic research: Q&A with Owen McCarty

Owen McCarty in lab

“Broadening the bar to include innovation and entrepreneurial activities is a strategy that can be broadly applicable to recognize the many evolving dimensions along which faculty create societal impacts, including efforts in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”

Owen McCarty, Ph.D. FAHA, recently co-authored the article “Innovation, entrepreneurship, promotion, and tenure” published in Science.  The article explores the importance of evaluating innovation and entrepreneurial activities in faculty promotion and tenure decisions, and highlights strategies to increase adoption of these practices across universities. McCarty and co-authors suggest that this evaluation framework can be broadly applied, beyond innovation and technology, to recognize the many and evolving dimensions along which faculty create societal impacts.

McCarty, professor and chair, Department of Biomedical Engineering, spoke with OHSU Innovates about the importance of innovation activities in his own career and how OHSU is working to incorporate innovation and entrepreneurship into their own promotion and tenure decisions.

Why do you think it is important that Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E) be evaluated in decisions of faculty promotion and tenure?

Broadening the bar to include I&E activities is a strategy that can be broadly applicable (beyond I&E) to recognize the many evolving dimensions along which faculty create societal impacts, including efforts in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Direct benefits of I&E efforts by faculty can include increased opportunities for research funding, access to unrestricted funds for further institutional investment, sustaining high scholarship level, student success, increased prestige, public benefit and economic development.

“Expanding what we value as scholarship can also help augment who we value as scholars and thus support a more innovative and diverse professoriate.”

How do you hope the guidelines laid out in this article will affect the promotion and tenure process?

OHSU was an early adopter of promotion and tenure (P&T) reform to codify efforts in innovation and entrepreneurship, and now DEI. While the OHSU P&T Committee was honoring these activities in the past, the formal inclusion of examples of I&E and DEI into our P&T documents has improved transparency for the faculty and departmental P&T committees.

How has your own experience with innovation and entrepreneurship impacted your career?

The inclusion of translational research in my group has served as a catalyst for graduate students and fellows to gain first-hand experience in innovation and entrepreneurship, with some students pursuing this as a career while others realizing that their passion rests in discovery or policy. While I personally remain enamored by basic research, it is a career reward to see our team’s translational work culminate in the development of new therapies that hold promise to improve patient outcomes.

What advice would you give new faculty interested in pursuing innovation and entrepreneurship projects?

Create a team that balances exploration with usefulness, and steer that scientific ship to the edge of the research map, for there are dragons waiting to be discovered. And create a mentoring team.

OHSU Innovates is powered by a collaborative network that includes OHSU Technology Transfer and OHSU Collaborations and Entrepreneurship in partnership with colleagues from Oregon Clinical and Translational Institute (OCTRI), OHSU School of Medicine Strategic Alliances and Knight Cancer Institute.