By: Norton Kaplan, President & COO
On December 1, 2016 I had the pleasure of participating in a panel presentation at the SBIR/STTR Innovation Summit in Austin TX. Dr. Carlos Kemeny, Assistant Director, Office of Innovation and Strategic Investment, The University of Texas System chaired the panel titled “Partnering to Create a Successful Pipeline.” The focus was on encouraging the development of technologies, products, and services by University faculty and students that meet current and future market needs and objectives. We all know that this is a challenge, especially for Universities, so the creation of a comprehensive support program that begins with the voice of the market, identifying funding opportunities and then assisting with market entry strategies has been created. As presented by Christopher Taylor, I-Corps is being utilized to address the market need and voice of the end-users. The I-Corps program provides some funding, coaching and most importantly a methodical approach. Foresight is providing faculty/student startups with the identification and selection of specific funding opportunities that will advance the development of the technology and its value proposition to a market acceptable level. Foresight is also guiding the “company” through the funding application process and providing the market data and additional contacts to validate the approach being proposed. Jim Greenwood, Greenwood Consulting Group, emphasized that an approach that includes partnering with existing small and medium companies may be viable. And Atul Varadhachary, Fannin, added the value for companies to have support and a methodology to approach the market throughout the entire process increases the likelihood of success.
My thoughts on the overall challenges in creating this “pipeline” start with the faculty. Providing incentives to move from the University environment to the open market is an issue. There is risk and reward but the typical success rate is not as high as one may like to see. This is possibly addressed with the students and Ph.D. candidates. The faculty and University can be in a support or partnership position. An STTR opportunity may be considered as a funding source to move beyond the I-Corps program. Another approach is considering a Spin-Up model as Foresight has been utilizing to advance the development of technologies in preparation for market entry. Technical and financial risk is managed reducing the exposure to the individuals involved. The more than 35 years of experience also increases the probability of commercialization that an individual or start-up may not experience on their own. A program such as the one being employed at The University of Texas System is a great starting point as continuity, support and opportunity is sometimes all that is need to excite new entrepreneurs on the pathway to the market.