Why is it difficult for academia and start-ups to collaborate?
Summary: Academia and startups are two different worlds. Nonetheless, academia and startups’ common on-going goal to raise funds may provide the key to a synergy between the two worlds. In this writing, I propose a framework that ACM SIGCHI may use as a catalyst for better collaboration between academia and startups, thus benefiting the HCI and UX community in Asia.
Academia and Start-Ups
A way back at the beginning of the millennium, I still vividly remember celebrating a new year’s eve at Copenhagen’s Town Hall Square, Rådhuspladsen. One of my new year’s resolution was making a difference with my HCI and UX skills and knowledge that I have seen working well with Oracle Danmark’s newly released Oracle Portal.
After interviewing with several giant corporations, I finally decided to join a less-known research institute in Germany, i.e. Fraunhofer FIT, with a focus on designing and developing a Distributed Center of Competency in Software Engineering (ViSEK) as a part of a German national initiative to encourage learning in the software industry. I was curious to know how a professional researcher lives and works.
One of the things I learned during my time at the institute was how, as a researcher, I had to justify my presence by reviewing, publishing, applying for funding, and collaborating with other researchers. Most of the projects that I was involved with were a means for publishing and applying for funding. Reviewing and collaboration are a means for ensuring that my publications and funding applications are relevant in a close-knitted academia community.
In particular to the ViSEK project, I also learned that there was a lack of trust and cooperation among Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) and between SMBs and academia.
When I moved to Singapore around 2008, I learned how the start-up ecosystem in Singapore lacked innovation and focused more on low-hanging fruits, short and mid-term Return on Investment (ROI). When my co-founder and I presented a proprietary innovation in OTA update for seed funding, the Venture Capitalists (VCs) focused only on how they could straight-away make money out of it. While OTA was later standardized, I was happy to shelve the idea and moved on. On another occasion, when we presented an online mobile learning platform to another VC, I was flabbergasted that the VC did not understand how the innovation could actually work in a billion-dollar mobile learning industry and asked whether I had another invention she might be interested in.
What Might Work
From my experiences in academia and start-up ecosystems, I learned that “raising funds” is the common denominator. Academia raise funds to support the continuity of their research, while start-ups raise funds to support the continuity of their business and growth. The similarity stops there, as academia is often challenged by the bureaucracy and administration of funding application, and start-ups are required to prove their value to get to the next round of funding.
In 2011, while I was focusing on growing our UX start-up in Indonesia, I received an invitation to attend the First ACM SIGCHI Asia Workshop in Beijing, China. Due to other prior commitments, I suggested Eunice Sari instead to attend the workshop. Later, when Eunice returned, she shared how she met with other similar-minded researchers who share a passion for developing HCI and UX community in Asia.
At that time, we had an idea to build a synergy of academia and start-ups, in which mutual benefits for both parties could happen. We understood that we had to build a platform where this collaboration could happen.
It took us about three years to experiment with different models, and we decided to start small with an event-based approach to build the platform slowly. The first two events we had in 2014 were the 1st Asia Pacific Workshop at OZCHI 2014 in Australia and UX Indonesia-Malaysia 1st Regional SIGCHI event in Indonesia. We chose Australia and Indonesia because both countries were geographically neighbors and the closest representation of Western and Asian cultures in different continents. We learned that our approach went well, and we had a better idea of what may and may not work in the newly-formed globally local communities.
When CHI came to Asia for the first time in 2015, we knew that it was a good opportunity to reach out more and test our ideas on a greater scale. We had CHIuXiD 2015, the first In Cooperation ACM SIGCHI Conference in Southeast Asia before CHI 2015. As a result, we brought about more diverse participation to ASEAN CHI Symposium at CHI 2015, providing academia and industry with an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas and information on HCI.
We also endeavoured to bring about cross-exchange of information and transfer of knowledge in a multidisciplinary environment and multi-socio-economic aspects of HCI research. In the symposium, we had small but diverse participants from South Korea, India, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, China, and the USA. At the same time, the Japanese and Chinese communities also held their symposia at CHI 2015. It was a ripe moment for the birth of the Asian Development Committee, comprising representatives from Japan, India, Indonesia, China and South Korea.
After another iteration with Southeast Asia CHI in CHI 2016 and CHIuXiD 2016 in Jakarta, we felt the need to grow our community and collaborate more intimately with other Asian communities. Thus, we had our 1st Asian CHI Symposium at CHI 2017 in the USA. While continuing my support for the annual CHIuXiD conferences from 2015–2020, last year I stepped down as a Chair of the Indonesia ACM SIGCHI and the Chair of CHIuXiD to provide a new generation of leaders an opportunity to nurture and grow the Indonesian HCI and UX community.
Following the CHI, we had Asian CHI Symposium 2018, 2019, and 2020. This year, a special year when CHI returns to Asia, we have Asian CHI Symposium 2021. While this may not be my last Asian CHI Symposium, I feel the time is ripe for applying lessons from the CHIuXiD and Asian CHI Symposium to a new platform.
During this year’s ACM SIGCHI’s Asian Development Committee (ADC) Meeting, I have expressed my ADC vision, i.e. AS-IS. I will conclude this writing with this year’s resolution for ADC that reflects what I think is important for HCI and UX community in Asia.
As an organization, we need to formally and strategically acknowledge individuals and communities in Asian HCI and UX communities who have contributed significantly.
Raising awareness and empowering Asian HCI and UX communities may be as simple as clarifying:
- What support is available
- When to ask for support
- How to ask for support
- What accountability looks like
Stories and storytelling are powerful. We need to inspire Asian HCI communities with success, and failure stories embody what we feel like an Asian CHI community. We need to think of stories that can inspire us.
Sharing is caring and loving. We need to raise awareness and empower Asian HCI and UX communities to access and publish through Open Access Publication.