Corporate technology scouts are inundated with information while at the same time struggling to define exactly what it is that they’re looking for in a potential partnership. To help you prepare your researchers for industry collaboration, below are the three key questions that tech scouts are thinking about before they even contact you, from our resident tech scout, Leopold Demiddeleer.
1. Is the technology a fit for my organization?
Finding the answer to this question is complicated and time-consuming, due to the technical complexity of most technologies. Tech scouts have to work through multiple scientific and engineering claims while working with the researcher to determine know-how requirements and more. Its not uncommon for a scout to put a lot of time into something that looks like a fit, later to find out it isn’t.
Bear in mind that while many scouts think they want the path with the fastest green light, an early red light is just as valuable, and can help them avoid misspent time and money. Alertness for “false fits” is critical to scouting efficiency – being able to say confidently, “Nope, despite the theoretical fit, it’s not for us.”
What are the key questions a tech scout must determine for fit?
- Is the research ongoing? This is a big deal for effective transfer. The patent’s author brings critical know-how to the partnership, which is helpful for everything from getting the project off the ground to optimizing it at later stages.
- What are the next steps of this research? Is there a meaningful summary that can be provided to me?
- Has the researcher clearly summarized what they want from the partnership? This can be difficult for a few reasons—focus, disclosure sensitivity, timing, prior practice, and so forth.
- Does this university display venture creation?
Unless non-market-based incentives distort startup formation, activity in creating spinouts and in licensing to startups are clear and positive signs that other research is likely to have not just academic significance, but commercial potential.
2. Are startups riskier as licensees?
The issue for the tech scout is – are the people with the technical insights putting their time and money into work with commercial goals? Looking at a patent description is helpful, but startups connect the dots: here’s a technology that a smart team is actively trying to commercialize.
Tech scouts view it as a great sign when the researcher is motivated by market-based solutions, not just by peer recognition of scientific leadership. So, even with a flawed process – industry insights can bring a lot.
Remember, investigators hitched to a startup aren’t just making a theoretical connection between research and marketplace: they’re betting on it. As a tech scout, I’m far more interested in getting to know a new institution with vigorous startup-stage licensing/new ventures because it shows that they have investigators interested in real products for the market.
3. License, acquire, or something else?
This question provides varied answers and they typically don’t show until you get into the deal. For example, we can really like the research, but aren’t satisfied with published IP – say, because the patent wasn’t written to protect what we needed – this happens a lot. Even with smart and successful TTOs guiding the process, patent applications can easily get written “academically” and not meet industrial licensee needs.
Do you want to take the first step and show corporate technology scouts that your research is ready?