Lab Locked Down? Look to Launch
- Published on March 18, 2020
In the “Lab to Launch” commercialization ecosystem, many researchers have been forced out of the lab and are on “lockdown”. During this time away from your projects, turn the situation into an opportunity to tackle the work that is needed to launch your ideas and innovations into the marketplace. There are many opportunities to make this time productive. While many of you work with consulting firms for commercialization, you would do yourself a huge favor by diving into the market and opportunity yourself and connect with the market players and gather key insights that will improve your lab time once you can return.
You’ll find that more than ever, people are available and willing to talk with you over a common interest. Your market has time, so take advantage of their time to move your innovation forward on the path to commercialization.
Here are some ways to spend your time wisely:
Discover SBIR – If you have never commercialized your research but are curious, the first step is to familiarize yourself with the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant programs. The first place to start is SBIR.gov. There you will find helpful tutorials and ultimately the “topics” that are of interest to the granting agencies. SBIR is an excellent way to see what the market is seeking. The topics are essentially “challenges” that they are seeking someone to solve.
Explore Secondary Market Research – If you are a university researcher, log into your library’s online database. Search for the business databases. Many will have access to highly valuable and normally very costly research. These databases can help you determine the market potential for your innovation. You will need this information when you apply for grant funding or if you plan to pitch for private capital. You will also learn about possible competitors, licensing targets, customer landscape, and what the market most wants from providers over the coming years. When you find targets, then it is time to make calls or do “primary research”.
Do Primary Research – Call and email market experts and end-users for your technology. I do this all day for clients and this Monday alone, I saw a 5X improvement on responses. Two joked about the “lockdown” from work, with one saying he was left with “nothing better to do”. instant rapport was made and valuable insights gathered that will help my clients move their innovation forward. You can learn a significant amount from connecting to the market regularly and will not only find guidance on your technology development but possibly commercial partners that will help you with more than just insights. Starting with peers and then associations that serve your market are the easy ones as they are almost always willing to help and interested in new developments. Calling into possible licensing partners or customers is tougher but this is where success is made…
Call Possible Customers – Using LinkedIn, find people who are involved in the target market for your innovation. This may be uncomfortable for many innovators but your customers want to hear from you and the authenticity you bring to the discussion will be welcome. Do not think of it as a “sales call”, simply helping them with their job by finding out what would they like to see in the market and in return, they gain value by learning about cutting edge innovations in their space.
Build a Competitive Matrix – From your research you will find out what companies are already out there serving the market. Ask potential customers who they use, what they pay, what they are frustrated with and use that data to formulate a market approach strategy. Even if you plan to hire this out, the high level overview of the competitive landscape will be invaluable to your grant application or pitch deck.
Pitch Your Spouse, Children, Roommates – If you’re lucky enough to be locked in with loved ones, tell them you have a new game to play – “Pitch my Innovation”. The key to a good pitch is simplicity and clarity. This is probably the biggest problem innovators have in the commercialization process. You know your idea but your audience likely does not understand, or if they do, they are looking for other information. They want to know at the highest of levels, what it does, how it impacts them, and by how much. Make the exercise fun and see how simple you can pitch the idea and opportunity. Make a 45 second “elevator pitch” and a 10-minute pitch deck and try them out on someone who does not know much about your work or the market. If you can do this, then you are well on your way to being ready to pitch an investor or partner.
Dive into Patents – Searching the patent databases can be another helpful secondary research step. You can find insights into how patentable your idea is, who are the companies involved in your niche, and where new research is headed.
When you are able to return to the lab, any commercialization work you have done will benefit your work. New insights will help guide the innovation and you will be pointed in the direction the market is going. Use your time wisely while on a break from the lab and you will find exponential payback for your efforts.