Academic-launched business ventures could be a new direction for the nation’s industrial development, as over the past four years, 103 academic teams have raised more than NT$5.3 billion (US$182.97 million) and founded 22 companies through the “TRUST-U” program, the Ministry of Science and Technology said on Saturday.
While Ministry of Economic Affairs data show the average five-year survival rate of start-ups is about 57 percent, and even fewer turn a profit, Chen Ping-hei (陳炳煇), a professor of engineering at National Taiwan University, said that one type of company founder offers more promising results.
Fewer than 100 people over the past two to three decades have left academia in Taiwan to start their own companies, but of those, 10 founded firms that are now listed and worth hundreds of billions of New Taiwan dollars, including five valued at more than NT$10 billion, Chen said.
Photo: Rachel Lin, Taipei Times
For example, eMemory Technology — which is worth NT$42 billion — was founded by Charles Hsu (徐清祥), who was chairman of National Tsing Hua University’s Institute of Electronics Engineering before leaving to start his firm, Chen said.
“Scholastic entrepreneurship should be the model for the next stage of Taiwanese industry,” said Chen, who used to help run the TRUST-U program.
Over the past four years, 103 teams working on 125 projects have received NT$3.55 billion in government funding to help them turn their research into viable enterprises, and 22 companies have been launched as a result, Chen said.
Those 22 start-ups have been able to raise NT$5.3 billion, far more than the average NT$60 million in technical transfer revenue that each university receives annually, which proves the viability of investing in start-ups from academia, he said.
One such venture, NeoPower Technologies, is a green energy management technology firm founded by professors from National Taiwan Normal University (Shida) and National Formosa University, including Hung Yi-hsuan (洪翊軒), chairman of Shida’s undergraduate program of vehicle and energy engineering.
Hung said that he recognized the trend toward scholastic entrepreneurship and decided to draw upon his experience working with industry leaders while at the Industrial Technology Research Institute.
He received funding from the Ministry of Education to hire doctoral candidates, saving a significant amount on initial costs and allowing his start-up to develop products quickly, Hung said.
Many of those students joined the company full-time after receiving their doctorates, he added.
However, not all start-ups go smoothly, as Sean Chen (陳學仕), a professor of materials science and engineering at Shida, can attest.
After researching quantum materials for two decades, Chen founded HsinLight in 2018 to respond to needs in the display panel industry.
In the beginning, he did both research and marketing, but found it to be difficult and less effective than receiving grants for research papers, he said, adding that he was still determined to transform his research into a direct contribution to the industry.
To help start-ups develop, the government should provide a one-to-one subsidy, Chen said.
Academics have also said that patent fees are another challenge facing their start-ups.
Such enterprises largely owe their success to their proprietary patents, but Ministry of Education statistics show the number of university-held patents has been dropping due to increasing renewal fees, falling from NT$1.24 billion in the 2016 academic year to NT$1.02 billion in 2018.
Additional reporting by Rachel Lin
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