Inside the Entrepreneurial Process of Commercialization
By Lisa McDonald
[Editor's Note: This is part 2 in a series of articles on the Texas Tech Accelerator process]
This last month has flown by, and we have been very busy getting this cohort off to a great start. While we have come across some minor bumps in the road, we have learned a tremendous amount about how we can modify and amend our processes to assist and serve our Texas Tech University System (TTUS) family more thoroughly and efficiently.
In this article, I would like to share with you some of what the teams are learning and working on. More importantly, I want to share with you what we are doing, how we are doing it, what we think we are doing right, and ask for feedback on how we can improve our offerings and processes.
The Texas Tech Accelerator assists with the launch of mainstream entrepreneurial ventures students are working on, but our main mission is to serve TTUS faculty as they commercialize their intellectual property and move research to market. Over the last ten years, strategists and entrepreneurs have streamlined the processes used with research institutes to move IP to market, particularly regarding the level of industry and customer input early in the process. Personally, I don't use the term customer in these conversations because the reality is, you have no customers yet. I use the term market validation instead.
Market validation and customer development/customer validation are not interchangeable phrases. Each phrase represents input and feedback from entities that are important to the process, but are introduced at different stages of the commercialization process. A clear understanding of who you are contacting and why you are contacting them before you reach out for expert opinions is absolutely vital. In the next Scholarly Messenger, I'll discuss more about the process of industry expert contact/engagement, but for now, know these conversations are a carefully structured and monitored process in which the benefits of the technologies are discussed, not how the technologies do what they do.
Jennifer Horn, the OVPR director of translational research and entrepreneurship, and I realized there many questions from faculty innovators on TTUS campuses about participation and expected commitment level on their part. The first step in our process is to visit with faculty who are interested in accelerating their IP. We sit down with them to discuss exactly what this accelerator is all about. The benefits of acceleration are numerous, but with respect to commercialization, the acceleration process specifically defines resource allocation, if a venture is worth pursing as is, or what direction to take.
Once we have confirmed interest in acceleration of the faculty's IP, we make sure they have disclosed to the Office of Research Commercialization and there are no issues preventing us from accelerating the technology (such as an existing licensing agreement).
As the technologies for acceleration are finalized, we begin to look at the composition of teams to accelerate them. If the faculty inventor would like to nominate a student or themselves participate on the team, we welcome them aboard. However, the only requirement from faculty is a commitment to allow their technology to participate in the accelerator cohort and a subsequent scoping meeting. This meeting is conducted as professional commercialization strategists prior to the start of due diligence. Basically, we interview the inventors and ask the important questions, "who, what, why, and anything else you want to tell us." These meetings allow us to set the baseline for where due diligence should start and to get a feel for the technological and market benefits via the perspective of the inventor.
Scoping meetings are not the last time inventors will hear from me and/or the teams. As we navigate this process, additional questions will come up and we will need input from the inventor. Additionally, I personally will be touching base with the faculty participants to update them on our progress and findings.
Texas Tech has provided all faculty, staff, and students the wonderful benefit of access to Microsoft OneDrive – a cloud based document storage and sharing system that is free to us as part of the TTUS. All faculty inventors who have a technology up for acceleration are given access to their team's folders. We encourage faculty to upload, view, and comment on the content of their team folders. Many faculty in this cohort have taken advantage of this access. In addition to being beneficial, access to view and retain findings from the cohort is just part of achieving our goal of being transparent with faculty inventors.
To date, the teams have all completed their scoping meetings with faculty inventors, documented their interviews, started their analysis, and held weekly meetings with me to make sure things keep moving along. As grateful as we are to the faculty members who have graciously given us their time and expertise, we have found the faculty inventors are just as grateful and excited to participate. The process has been very rewarding thus far.
Coming soon, the teams will deliver a draft document of their Snapshot – a document derived from a standard process and deliverable I used as a professional consultant and strategist. The intent of this document, once complete, is to provide all stakeholders with a tool they can use to best move their technologies to market. There are additional deliverables and documents the teams will craft, but the Snapshot is the first.
If you are interested in how you can participate in the next cohort, please let me know. We are a work in progress and while this is my first pass as director of the accelerator here at Texas Tech, we have already seen remarkable changes in how our faculty embrace this opportunity and process. I always welcome your thoughts, feedback, and questions.
Lisa McDonald is director of the Texas Tech Accelerator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.