By Jason Pontin
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All of which could have dire consequences for innovative startup companies. Indeed, the combination of venture capitalists favoring later-stage startups and the continuing trend of large corporations investing less in speculative research is creating an innovation vacuum, according to some experts. “The effects are pretty ghastly,” says Lita Nelsen, director of MIT’s Technology Licensing Office. “Large corporations have become less and less invested in early-stage research. They buy it from little companies.
He then took the plan to Bill Gates, laying out the initial projects the center would take on and requesting a 50 percent increase in Beijing lab staff. The Microsoft chairman gave the plan the green light. The last person to convince was CEO Steve Ballmer, who had to approve new personnel additions of this magnitude. Ballmer surprised Rashid by asking whether the 50 percent staff increase was adequate. His point was that by the time an innovation made it to the new Advanced Technology Center, it should be pretty much assured of becoming part of a commercial product.
And even a great invention might arrive at the wrong point in the product development cycle, where it’s difficult to fit into the next release. “Which means that for the product group to form a team and take that risk [of developing the invention] may be too big a risk and too big a distraction,” says Zhang. His sentiment is echoed by Dennis Adler, general manager of business development for ATC. Based in Redmond, he is the liaison between the center and Microsoft’s product groups, helping the business divisions understand what advances are emerging from Beijing and the ATC members understand development schedules and constraints.