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Myself and a few business partners of mine are working to develop a software product, in which I am responsible for building and all other technical aspects. At the same time, I'm currently pursuing a secondary degree in Computer Science at a local university. As my responsibilities within our business include securing a competent technical advisor, a suggestion was raised by my colleagues to inquire with my professors as to if they'd be willing to take on a limited advisory role in exchange for some amount of company ownership.

Is this at all common in the academic world? There are past professors in which I've excelled in their classes, had positive relationships and would consider their knowledge in such a role incredibly valuable. Additionally, I also know a few of them are not full-time with the university, but serve as guest lectures with ongoing careers in the software field.

I've been told this isn't an entirely uncommon practice, but I can also foresee a number of ethical issues and conflict of interest surrounding this idea, given that I'm a student within the program.

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Due to the mentioned ethical aspects you should avoid any financial relationship with professors of which you are still taking courses.

On the other hand, it is happening quite often that a professor is supporting a start up and compensation can be either money, company ownership, or sometimes just personal satisfaction.

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What's the specific relationship between you and your professor? If the professor is currently teaching a class you are taking, advising your thesis, etc. then it may be considered a conflict of interest.

However, if you had a student-professor relationship but are no longer in said relationship, and don't foresee any future ones, then I personally don't see any ethical issues. If you are merely a student of the program but the professor of interest has no direct advisory or administrative role that's instrumental to your academic success, then there essentially is no conflict of interest from what I can see.

If the professor does has some key role, then it may be advisable to wait until you graduate or it's 100% clear that you have no extraneous relationship with the professor that would result in conflict of interest.

I don't think it's a common thing in the academic world, but that might just be because a lot of professors don't have work experience outside academia and never thought about venturing into the unknown. This could also depend on the department (e.g., a lot of Business Professors seem to do consulting work on the side).

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Is this at all common in the academic world?

This is quite common in some departments.

I've been told this isn't an entirely uncommon practice, but I can also foresee a number of ethical issues and conflict of interest surrounding this idea, given that I'm a student within the program.

There are indeed substantial conflict of interest problems with this, though they are somewhat less if the professor is not your direct supervisor. Regardless, there are almost certainly systems in place at your university to handle these in some way.

In short: It's certainly possible, not particularly exotic, but will require some extra effort.

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It's common in business schools. I just would be a little wary of what is involved for each party. Maybe you get a few ideas/coaching and the name to flaunt around (and they do to). But you are going to have to drive the business.

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