Mark Prisk: How to close the gap between business and academia

"When Brits think of the Silicon Valley universities, Stanford always springs to mind. Yet it is San Jose State University which actually produces the most engineers who graduate and then work in the Bay Area.

"I visited the biocenter, run jointly by the city authorities and the university’s own research foundation. They also run three other incubators, covering the environmental, software and, interestingly, ‘foreign’ markets.

"Melinda Richter who hosted my visit was very clear about the benefits of this joint approach. Over $800m has been raised and the success rate of the incubators’ fledgling firms is two to three times higher than those starting up on their own.

"The university’s research foundation acts between the conventional academic and business worlds. It helps create internships for students and provides the technical and research facilities vital to the rapid development of the firms.

"I also visited the university’s five-year-old Martin Luther King Library. It is open to all local citizens and has helped to end what we in the UK think of as the gap between town and gown. From the atrium, we could see the leading PhD students on the top floor studying, while local primary school children were reading and borrowing books below.

"As provost Carmen Sigler pointed out, this combination of resources has enabled them to secure a facility which, on their own, neither university nor city could have hoped for.

"It’s a classic example of how two plus two really can equal five."

Mark Prisk is shadow minister for business and a Conservative MP. He ran his own business for ten years before entering parliament in 2001.

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