James Utterback, the David J. McGrath Jr. (1959) Professor of Management and Innovation, professor of engineering systems, and one of the System Design and Management program’s most popular faculty members, was one of seven "exemplars of excellence" honored by KU Leuven last June at its bi-annual Leuven International Forum.
The international forum is primarily a networking event that brings together Belgian, European and international leaders from academia, industry and government for the advancement of knowledge and service to society. KU Leuven, located in Flanders, Belgium, has been a center of learning since its founding in 1425.
Utterback — lauded as one of the pioneers of research on innovation at and by spin-offs — spoke about the confluence of different fields such as biotechnology and nanotechnology. He described this fusion of disciplines as necessary, but cautioned that the benefits of interdisciplinary research must not be left to chance and innovators must purposefully steer the process.
Utterback mentioned the link between automation and unemployment among the problematic issues of innovation, pointing out that 90 percent of employees still work in established industries. "It is therefore important to invest in new fields in a well-considered and balanced manner."
And what is the secret to the “spin-off sauce,” as Utterback himself described it? "Young entrepreneurs are attracted to MIT because they know we support their ideas."