Adam Marblestone and Samuel Rodriques have an interesting new proposal
for what they call “Focused Research Organisations” (FROs). They argue that there’s a missing piece in the strategic R&D jigsaw that FROs fill. The core idea is that some advances in strategically important areas of science and technology - the authors suggest brain mapping, novel antibiotic technology and nano fabrication, among others, as candidates - fall between the cracks of existing institutions.
Why? According to Marblestones and Rodriques, these require more coordinated building
and systematic teamwork than academia permits, but their benefits are not immediately monetisable in the way that a startup or corporate business model would require. Crucially, the argument goes, organisations like (D)ARPA (discussed in TiB 21
, TiB 100
and TiB 126
) can’t achieve this alone, because they focus on the funding, rather than delivery, side of the equation. The proposed solution is independent organisations focused on a single problem with a well-defined and time-bound goal.
I like this idea. In my day job
, I often come across ideas that struggle to cross the “not quite science, not quite a startup” chasm. The biggest challenge I foresee is talent attraction and retention (There’s a good thread on this here
). If the opportunity cost for many target employees is working in a startup, rather than academia, such people are often happy to work for (relatively) low salaries, but like to have a way to share in the upside. If there were a way to engineer that, I think it could be a game changer.