Academic Entrepreneurship, Innovations and Bulgaria

Ivan Chalakov is Associate Professor of Sociology in Plovdiv University “Paisii Hilendarski” and at the same time is the head of the Group for research of technologies at the Institute of Sociologies in BAS (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences). His research interests are in the field of sociology of science and technologies and economics of the technical change. During the period 1993-1998 he conducted an ethnographic study of the Central laboratory for optical record and processing of information at BAS, where he introduced the term for heterogeneous micro-community, occurring on the relations of passivity and responsibility between human and non-human participants. The results are published in the book To make a hologram (a book about scientists, light and everything else). Sofia (Academic publishing house „Prof. Marin Drinov“, 1998, 252 p.) Inз 1999 the book got second place prize of National fund „Scientific studies“ .
Since the middle of 90s he has been working on problems of economic and technological transformation in the countries from
Southeast Europe after the collapse of communism, including a major European project on information technologies in Bulgaria, Romania and Macedonia (TACTCS), dual-use technologies, academic entrepreneurship (PROKNOW), the ATACD project, etc. 

In some spheres, the academic entrepreneurship is still a dirty word and there are reasons for that. After 1989 the party nomenclature in science in collaboration with its „supervisors“ from State security, created the first spin-off companies in BAS,AcademyofAgriculture, institutional institutes, universities. Many of these companies are a form of „private embezzlement of public assets”, which was then used in economics. Intellectual property, valuable scientific equipment, experimental-industrial installations and small high-technology lines were transferred by them to new companies, who received the earnings, and parent institutes paid the costs. Contrary to the rest of the economics, in science this scheme proved to be short-term – after 1992 the science societies almost everywhere replaced old management bodies and ceased the plundering of assets. Under the penalty of dismissal bans were introduced on participation in commercial firms and on association with private companies. Scientific assets were saved…

This story is however too simplified and hides significant parts of the problem of academic entrepreneurship. In order to really know it, we must consider at least three more processes – the enduring tension between fundamental (science because of the science itself) and an applied science, the transition from administrative to market economy and its reflection in science, as well as the global competition between companies and innovations as a resource in this competition.

I came across the tension between „pure” and „practical” scientists some years ago, when a young scientist in the holographic laboratory explored by me, said „… Technology is the supreme science. Not that I do not appreciate the fundamental researches, but I really do not like pure science, science for the science itself. For me, the real challenge is to see a new thing to start working“. Very often, however in the same field, it seems that scientists belong to two different „cultures”. The first one studies wild creatures and believes that the job ends with scientific publications, describing these creatures and their characteristics. For the other group, however, this is just the first step towards the final aim – the „taming” of these creatures, making them part of a marketable product. These two cultures can be combined in one person or in one scientific society, but they can also be two worlds being at enemy with each other. In this context the „depletion” of scientific assets is just a transitional moment in the saga of East European transition, camouflaging the authentic striving of part of the scientists to realize by themselves their research results in products and technologies, which are useful for people and create added value. A striving, which has nothing to do with orders and instructions given by shady structures.

Because, similar to the army, the pure science can exist only if it is constantly filled with resources from outside. They are historically identifying themselves differently (ancient science brings up young people in the spirit of „welfare”, in early modernity to decipher „the book of nature” is a form of the biblical exegesis), but along with that the utility of scientific knowledge is always a key resource of identification. It is not rejected by the „pure” scientists, but they prefer to leave this job to engineers and technologists.

In nowadays global economy, the main competitive advantage is namely the innovations based on original research results, but not the cheap labour and the natural resources. One of the most effective ways to speed-up the transition from a scientific discovery to an innovation is the engagement of the scientists in this process – merging of science and business into one another, turns out to be the environment, from where the industries of 21st century are born. Researches show, that it is better to remove the barrier between science and economics and every time they want, the scientists to be able to go beyond that barrier – to establish companies or to work as consultants there, to go back to the research departments, etc. This process is not smooth and trouble-free, but the countries which provided for this motion and learned how to manage it, predominate in global economy.

Analyzing the experience of these countries, articles show the traditions of academic entrepreneurship inBulgaria, its modern trends and problems. They put on record the fact of intensifying the tension between the scientists with entrepreneurship attitude and those, who remain in the fortress of „pure” nature, during periods of economic crisis and pose the issue of searching political, institutional and financial solutions, which to enable the scientists to introduce their achievements without leaving their scientific organization. Solutions, which to protect their rights as well as the interests of the scientific organizations.

Data were collected within the project PROKNOW under the 6th Framework programme of EU. The authors were associates of the Group for research of technologies of the formerInstitute ofSociology in BAS and as the only Eastern European partner in the consortium, consisting of colleagues fromGermany,France,United Kingdom,Netherlands,Switzerland andFinland.

Ivan Chalakov,Sofia, 20 May 2011

I am grateful to Mimi Vasileva and Venelin Petrov for their notes and comments.