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For many years, I got requests from companies to do “something” with the brain. Can you prove that pudding makes your brain happy?  Can MRI tell me which advertisement is better? Can brain scans predict who will win the next election?  Can we use a live tiger to show anxiety in the brain?

No, no, no, and what?!!

For a long time, I thought there was so little common ground between academia and industry that any partnership was doomed from the start.  It took a small project with a top advertising firm to change my thinking and get me excited about academic-corporate partnerships.

A good beginning

In 2014, JWT approached me about producing some brain imagery to help advertise their Big Thinking on Strategy meeting.  They wanted to take advantage of the seductive allure of neuroscience by using brain scans to produce a cool visual theme for the conference.

Working with the JWT team was like interacting with my best grad students.  They were intelligent, highly motivated, and constantly challenging me with tough questions.  One Friday, I got asked about the format of the raw brain scan files.  By Monday, James was showing me the 3D image viewer he wrote over the weekend.  How hard-core is that?!

Over the course of a month, I essentially ran a Masters-level seminar in brain imaging for the team but I bet I learned more than they did.  They made me appreciate just how much information we have in academia that is directly relevant to the corporate world — something I never fully believed.  They also opened my eyes to the novel questions that come from having a broad, practical perspective.  These insights continue to shape my own research to this day.

Since then, I have had the pleasure to work on many different projects with a range of companies and organisations.  All of them have reinforced the idea that academic-corporate partnerships offer enormous opportunities (and challenges!) for both groups.  From access to unique data sets, to exciting opportunities for our students, to generating research with true impact, I have come to the conclusion that the hardest part is building bridges between our worlds.

Working together

This came up in a conversation with Keith Kawabata Duncan, a former PhD student of mine who now works as a consumer research scientist at Shiseido in Japan.  He asked what made it so difficult for business and academia to work together when both were so keenly interested?  Keith then introduced Takuya Ibaraki, the head of the Consortium for Applied Neuroscience in Japan, whose organisation exists to bring industry and academia together.  We felt that the partnerships that worked best were those that developed from personal contacts but there was no easy mechanism for generating those contacts.

Conferences are the logical solution but the existing ones tend to focus on either business or academics.  For instance, the Neuromarketing World Forum is primarily aimed at business.  The Society for Neuroeconomics focuses mainly on the science.  Both conferences, however, would clearly benefit by bringing interested parties together on an equal footing to discuss ideas and opportunities, to share advances and problems, and to develop the personal relationships that lead to exciting partnerships.  What we was a new conference to do exactly that.  And Applying Neuroscience to Business was born.

#AN2B

Our goal is to promote dialogue between academics and business professionals interested in applying behavioural sciences, behavioural economics, psychology, and neuroscience to solve real world problems related to business, social enterprise, public health, and education. The meeting is open to all academics and business professionals who share this interest.

We have been extremely fortunate in recruiting a fantastic array of speakers that includes some of the leading names in the field:

  • Hilke Plassman, INSEAD Business School
  • Eric Singler, CEO of BVA Nudge Unit
  • Yoko Kobayashi, NTT
  • Vinod Venkatraman, Temple University
  • Professor Nichola Raihani, University College London
  • Kazue Hirabayashi, Shiseido
  • Professor Katsumi Watanabe, Waseda University
  • Thomas Curry, Audible UK

to name a few (full list of speakers).  Presentations that share the very latest developments are important but an explicit aim of the meeting is to bring people together to discuss these developments, share their own experiences and insights, and bridge the divide between academia and the business world.

Exchanging knowledge

Each session includes a round table discussion of the issues.  To encourage interactions, we will be using Sli.do throughout the meeting so that the audience can feed their questions, comments and thoughts into the panel discussions.

In addition, the poster session on the first evening leads directly into the drinks reception to promote interactions on a personal level.

Finally, the last day of the meeting will bring participants together in small groups of mixed academics and business professionals to thoroughly explore the six key themes of the meeting in facilitated discussions.  This “neuro hackathon” format aims to identify key open issues and brainstorm new ways we can work together to address them.

If this meeting lays the foundation for a single new academic-corporate partnership, I would personally consider it a success.  At a minimum, I hope we provide a forum to bring people together, open new dialogues, sharing knowledge and experience, and developing the personal relations that provide a foundation for professional partnerships.