One of the greatest challenges that tech transfer office (TTO) and new ventures staff at universities face in commercializing university technology is cultivating business savvy among their researchers-turned-entrepreneurs. TTO staff dedicate significant time and resources to empowering and coaching researchers interested in commercialization to design product features that resonate with the needs of their prospective customers, price their product appropriately, gain the confidence to pitch their product to prospective business partners, and expand and nurture their networks. Investing in university researchers and empowering them to think like an entrepreneur in the tech transfer process is critical to commercialization success.
Our team attended the 2019 AUTM Annual Meeting in Austin, TX in February, where we learned from thought leaders in technology transfer on topics ranging from strategies for forging successful industry-university partnerships, to the benefits of creating funds for early-stage proof-of-concept development, to tactics for helping scientists develop essential business skills. One of the sentiments echoed throughout many of the sessions was that though the barriers to commercialization are very real, there are methods and resources available for overcoming these barriers. So if you’re a TTO or new ventures professional looking to coach your researchers: what are some key steps you should take when helping your researchers transition from the bench to the business world?
1. Educate your researchers to think of their tech as a product tailored to their customers’ wants and needs.
More startups fail from lack of customers than from product failure. While the tech may provide a solution to the world’s problems, it won’t go anywhere if the market isn’t ready to receive it. Conducting customer interviews is critical to business success. By interviewing the people who will ultimately use the product, researchers can find out what their prospective customers actually want and need.
It’s important to be specific about what the product does and what problems it solves. Researchers should be able to answer these questions to identify product-market fit:
- What specific problems does the product solve?
- What is the specific product or service provided?
- Does the value proposition match what the customer needs?
- How will the future startup get, keep, and grow its customer base?
2. Once they have developed a product people want, help your researchers develop the confidence they need to cultivate business relationships.
In research, ideas are kept close to the chest to protect intellectual property. This often leads to information silos, which are not conducive to the idea-sharing nature of commercialization. However, in the business world, networking is king. Companies are looking to collaborate with universities and young startups—sometimes, all you have to do is start the conversation.
3. “Build it and they will come” doesn’t apply—a well-honed pitch is the ticket to forming the right partnerships.
Prospective investors want specific, measurable outcomes and plans. Vague proposals willlose investors’ interest. Both the product and the pitch have to demonstrate exactly what results all parties can expect. Researchers must look beyond the scope of their immediate work to describe why their offer matters.
With our high-impact, industry-vetted profile templates, seed makes it easy for both TTO professionals and researchers to put technology on display for the right people to see and securely communicate with potential partners. We know how important it is to keep intellectual property secure, which is why we provide encrypted data rooms and NDA negotiation tools.
Educating researchers to think about their tech as a business is critical to transforming it into a life-changing product or service that can make the world a better place. is a great first step in helping your tech reach a wider audience and we’re happy to be part of the process!